After nearly 30 years as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars, Will Smith has finally won the Oscar for Best Actor. The former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air won the award during the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday for his performance as Richard Williams, father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, in the biopic King Richard – who is also nominated for Best Picture.
But the victory is forever overshadowed by a shocking moment earlier in the night. After Best Documentary host Chris Rock made a joke at the expense of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith took the stage and punched the comedian in the face. The TV show fell silent after the altercation as Smith continued to curse Rock.
As international broadcasts of the ceremony confirmed, Smith told Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your damn mouth!” Nothing about the moment felt staged, and no one involved in the ceremony immediately explained what was happening was.
Rock previously hosted the Oscars in 2016, where he made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s boycott of the Oscars, essentially saying she wasn’t invited anyway. Meanwhile, Pinkett-Smith’s shaved head is partly due to her ongoing battle with alopecia – a condition that causes hair loss – which she has spoken publicly about in the past.
According to Smith, Denzel Washington pulled him aside after the incident and told him, “Be careful in your highest moment and the devil will come for you.”
Smith attempted to acknowledge the situation during his acceptance speech for the award.
“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” he said as he slowly burst into tears. “At this time in my life, at this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is asking me to do and be in this world. […] I am called in my life to love people. And to protect people. And to be a river for my people. I know to do what we do you have to be able to take abuse. You have to make people talk crazy about you. You must have people who treat you disrespectfully. You have to smile and pretend it’s okay.”
Smith went on to officially address the incident. “I want to apologize to the academy, I want to apologize to all the nominees. This is a beautiful moment. I don’t cry because I won an award. It’s not about winning, it’s about being able to shine on everyone.” He continued by thanking Venus and Serena Williams, as well as much of the cast and crew King Richard.
King Richard marks the third time Smith has been nominated for the award. Like the two previous times – 2001 but and 2006 The pursuit of happiness – it’s for the lead role in a biographical drama.
At this year’s Oscars, Smith beat fellow nominees Andrew Garfiled (tick tick…BOOM!), Benedict Cumberbatch (The power of the dog), Javier Bardem (be the Ricardos), and Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth).
King Richard is currently available to stream on HBO Max.