Actor Will Smith, who at his last awards-show appearance slapped presenter Chris Rock after a remark by Rock about Smith’s wife, spoke about identifying with slaves during an awards presentation on Wednesday.
Smith accepted a Beacon Award at the 14th annual African-American Film Critics Association Awards in Beverly Hills, California.
During the presentation, Smith spoke about the movie “Emancipation,” in which he plays a slave, according to the Washington Examiner.
“‘Emancipation’ was the individual most difficult film of my entire career,” Smith said, joking that the film was “all outdoors, that is true.”
Smith then turned serious.
— Variety (@Variety) March 1, 2023
“It’s really difficult to transport a modern mind to that time period. It’s difficult to imagine that, that level of inhumanity,” he said.
“It was the second day of shooting and 110 degrees. We’re out there. I was in a scene with one of the white actors, and we had our lines, and the actor decided to ad-lib.”
“So, we’re doing the scene. I did my line. And then he did his line. And then he ad-libbed and spit in the middle of my chest,” Smith said as the audience groaned.
“If I had pearls on, I definitely would’ve clutched them. I wanted to say, ‘Antoine,’ but I stopped, and I realized that Peter (Smith’s character) couldn’t have called the director,” he said, referring first to director Antoine Fuqua and then the name of his character in the movie.
Smith related what came next.
“I sat there, and I took a deep breath, and we did take two, and the actor felt that the ad-lib had gone well,” he said.
“So, we do take two. I do my line. He does his line and spits in the middle of my chest again. I just held in that moment, and there was a part — it makes me teary right now — there was a part of me that was grateful that I got to really understand.”
Then came the anecdote’s conclusion.
“And then, in the distance, I hear a voice, and Antoine says, ‘Hey, let’s do a take without the spit.’ And in that moment, I knew that God was real,” Smith said.
Rock used the movie as fodder for a joke as he prepared for a Netflix special.
“I rooted for Will Smith my whole life,” he said while testing jokes for the special, according to the New York Post.
“The other day, I watched ‘Emancipation’ just so I could watch him getting whipped,” Rock said.
Smith’s infamous slap of Rock came onstage during the 94th Academy Awards last March.