UPDATED throughout: In a video that is 5 minutes, 44 seconds long, Will Smith has broken his silence about the regrettable “slap heard around the world,” in which he struck Oscar presenter Chris Rock after the comic made fun of Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith. This before Smith was awarded Best Actor Oscar honors.
The apology was expected, and Smith has done it in the form of answering questions that were raised on the internet. While there was an expectation Smith might choose a high profile TV interview for his apology with Oprah Winfrey on a late-night talk show, he instead chose to sit and calmly answer questions on social media.
The first was directed to Rock, the standup comic who made a joke about Pinkett Smith’s close cropped hair, perhaps not knowing she suffers from alopecia. Answering the question of why he didn’t apologize to Rock in his acceptance speech, Smith said:
“I was fogged out by that point. It is all fuzzy. I’ve reached out to Chris and the message that came back is that, he’s not ready to talk. When he is, he will reach out. I will say to you, Chris, I apologize to you. My behavior was unacceptable and I am here whenever you are ready to talk. I want to apologize to Chris’s mother. I saw an interview [she] did, and that was one of the things I just didn’t realize. I wasn’t thinking, but how many people got hurt in that moment. I want to apologize to Chris’ mother, I want to apologize to Chris’s family, specifically Tony Rock. We had a great relationship. Tony Rock was my man. This is probably irreparable. I spent the last three months replaying and understanding the nuance and complexity of what happened in that moment. I’m not going to try to unpack all of that right now, but I can say to all of you, there is no part of me that thinks that was the right way to behave in that moment. No part of me that thinks that is the optimal way to handle a feeling of disrespect or insult.”
Smith addressed whether his wife prompted his decision to run up to the stage from his front row seat, to strike a stunned Rock in the middle of his presentation of the Best Documentary award that was won by Questlove for Summer of Soul. Rock handled it in as stoic a fashion as could be imagined, carrying on after saying, ‘Will Smith just slapped the shit out of me,’ as the actor took his seat and yelled for Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth. Smith answered the question as follows:
“No. I made a choice on my own, from my own experience, and my history with Chris. Jada had nothing to do with it. I’m sorry, babe, and I want to say sorry to my kids and my family for the heat that I brought on all of us.”
He also apologized to the nominees whose Oscars went unnoticed, because viewers were so stunned by the slap. That included Jessica Chastain, who won Best Actress, and the cast of CODAwhich won Best Picture.
“To all my fellow nominees, this is a community. I won because you voted for me and it really breaks my heart to have stolen and tarnished your moment. I can still see Questlove’s eyes – it happened on Questlove’s award – and I am sorry isn’t really sufficient.”
Finally, Smith finished with this:
“Two things. One, disappointing people is my central trauma. I hate when I let people down, so it hurts me psychologically and emotionally that I didn’t live up to peoples’ image and impression of me. The work I am trying to do is, I am deeply remorseful and I’m trying to be remorseful without being ashamed of myself. I’m human and I made a mistake and I’m trying not to think of myself as a piece of shit so I would say to those people, I know it was confusing, I know it was shocking, but I promise you I am deeply devoted and committed to putting light and love and joy into the world. If you hang on, I promise we will be able to be friends again.”
It will be interesting to see the reaction. Many felt that despite an action which earned him a ten-year ban from the Academy, Smith has always been a man worthy of admiration, who had a terrible moment in the worst possible place to do it.
Apple will test the global audience’s willingness to welcome Smith back when it releases Emancipation in December. While it was reported that the film would delay release a year – those reports were just wrong speculation – Apple will lean into the movie, especially after its other major Oscar season release, Killers of the Flower Moonwill instead launch at next Cannes.
Emancipation is complete, and sources said it has been tested numerous times and has gotten very high scores. In the Antoine Fuqua-directed William N. Collage-scripted drama, Smith plays Peter. He is an enslaved man and the film is an Apocalypto-style thriller about his harrowing escapes to freedom through the swamps of Louisiana. When Peter reaches the North, he joined the Union Army. During his physical, doctors were shocked when he removed his shirt and bore the scars from a near fatal beating on his back. They took photographs and those ran in newspapers across the world. They provided a gruesome testament to the barbarity and cruelty of slavery in the antebellum South. So indelible that those images could be considered a forerunner to the publication of photos of Emmett Till and video of the murder of George Floyd.
Smith is the film’s star, and also producer, which would put him in two major categories. Some have said had the slap not happened, he would be a favorite to win back to back Best Actor Oscars. I’ve also heard that Emancipation is the best film director Antoine Fuqua has made since Training Day. We’ll see how the film fares, but Smith’s apology is certainly a first step in his return to the positive side of the Hollywood ledger.
Watch the video of Smith’s remarks above.