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Will Smith Accepts Beacon Award for Emancipation at The African American Film Critics Association

Will Smith delivered his first acceptance speech since the 2022 Oscars after he received the Beacon Award at the African American Film Critics Association Awards. Making it the actor’s first awards show appearance since the film academy banned him from the Oscars for 10 years for slapping presenter Chris Rock onstage at the 94th Academy Awards, where Smith won the prize for lead actor.

As seen in the video above, while accepting the honor alongside director Antoine Fuqua for their movie, Emancipation, Smith thanked everyone in the “room for keeping our stories alive. In this room are people who really suffer for the art to bring these stories to the screen and to deliver them in a way that has emotional impact … and hopefully just the subtle possibility to change a heart or to change a mind,” Smith said.

“More than anything, I want to thank my brother, Antoine Fuqua. He didn’t compromise on one shot, dog. His heart, his mind, his desire to deliver this story to all of you and to the world — I was blown away by the lengths that he was willing to make me go through to deliver this film.”

During his speech, Smith called Emancipation, “the most difficult film of my entire career.” He also offered a glimpse into his experience shooting the project, recalling a shocking moment in which a cast member improvised a scene and spit on him without warning.

“It’s really difficult to transport a modern mind to that time period. It’s difficult to imagine that level of inhumanity,” Smith said. “I was in a scene with one of the white actors, and … he ad-libbed and spit in the middle of my chest. … If I had pearls on, I definitely would’ve clutched them.”

The “King Richard” and “I Am Legend” star shared that his first instinct was to get Fuqua involved — but he resisted the urge.

“I stopped, and I realized that [my character] Peter couldn’t have called the director,” he continued. “So, 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 does his line and spits in the middle of my chest again. And I just held in that moment. … It makes me teary right now. There was a part of me that was grateful that I got to really understand.

“And then in the distance, I hear a voice: Antoine says, ‘Hey, let’s do a take without the spit,’” he added as the audience burst into laughter. “And I knew that God was real.”

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