Will Smith guaranteed that the 2022 Oscars will be remembered not only for the success of the film ‘King Richard’ but also for the physical slap he delivered on stage to host Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke at the expense of his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who suffers from Alopecia.
I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people. And to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you. And you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that’s okay. Will Smith
Back in his seat, next to his wife, Smith called out: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth!”
Earlier, the evening saw the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, arrive on the red carpet of the 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in support of ‘King Richard’, the biographical film about their father starring Smith, both wearing daring dresses.
The film chronicles the Williams sisters’ youth in Compton, California, where they learned to play tennis under father Richard’s tutelage, through Venus’ professional debut at the 1994 Bank of the West Classic.
The Williams sisters, along with Isha Price, were the film’s executive producers.
On Sunday, Venus was decked in a white, floor-length gown with silver trim custom-designed by Elie Saab, while Serena wore a blush pink and black long-sleeved Gucci dress.
Joining them was Serena’s husband, Alexis Ohanian, and their sisters Isha and Lyndrea Price.
Venus came close to a wardrobe malfunction with her stunning white dress and its plunging neckline that was dangerously close to revealing all.
In total, ‘King Richard’ earned 6 nominations on the night, including Best Picture; Best Actor for Smith in the title role; Best Supporting Actress for Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Oracene Price; and Best Original Screenplay.
Together, Venus and Serena introduced Beyoncé’s to start the show, who performed a highly anticipated rendition of her Oscar-nominated song, ‘Be Alive’, from a tennis court in Compton, California, where the Williams sisters used to practice.
“We are proud to be joined by some very special movie lovers at a place that has played such an important part in our lives,” Venus said, before Serena added: “Our hometown tennis courts in the heart of the beautiful Compton, the vibrant hub of LA, where we truly came alive as young athletes.”
Smith was the heavy favourite to take home the Oscar going into the night, having picked up almost every major precursor award for best actor, including the Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award, BAFTA, and SAG Award.
He faced stiff competition from Benedict Cumberbatch, who fronted the most nominated film of the evening, Netflix’s ‘The Power of the Dog’, and Andrew Garfield, whose performance as ‘Rent’ composer Jonathan Larson in ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’ earned him a surging swell of support.
Denzel Washington and Javier Bardem rounded out the category for their performances in ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ and ‘Being the Ricardos’, respectively.
Ultimately, it was Smith’s fierce yet vulnerable performance as the determined tennis coach that won the day as he picked up the Oscar for best actor moments after his controversial storming of the stage.
It was his first Oscar win, having been previously nominated twice, and the actor tearfully apologised on stage following the incident.
“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” a teary Smith said, after accepting his award for ‘King Richard’ from John Travolta.
“In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world.
“Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met.
“I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actors who played Venus and Serena.
“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people. And to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you.
“In this business you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you. And you gotta smile and you gotta pretend like that’s okay.”
Smith is only the 5th Black man to win the Academy Award for best actor, following in the footsteps of the late Sidney Poitier, Washington, Forest Whitaker, and Jamie Foxx, and he name-checked Washington in his speech, referencing the slap.
“Denzel said to me a few minutes ago, at your highest moment, that’s when the devil comes for you,” he said. “I want to be a vessel for love.
“I want to say, thank you to Venus and Serena.
“Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things.”
He ended his speech by apologising to the Academy and adding: “Thank you for this honour.
“Thank you for this moment, and thank you on behalf of Richard and Oracene and the entire Williams family.
“Thank you. I hope the academy invites me back.”
Smith started out as an aspiring rapper and became a sensation in American sitcom ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and now has won his first Oscar for his leading role in King Richard, in which he plays the father and coach of Venus and Serena, who are played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton respectively.
The film follows Richard Williams as he works to defy the odds and train his daughters to become two of the greatest female tennis players in the world.
The film grossed more than 15 million US dollars (£11.4 million) at the box office in the United States and Canada, and more than 38 million US dollars (£28.8 million) worldwide as of March 2022.