Will Smith Returns To Awards Stage For First Time Since Punching Chris Rock

Will Smith accepted the African American Film Critics Association Award for Emancipation, and it was his first awards showing since the Chris Rock slap.

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

will smith

Thanks to the success of the Rocky franchise, Hollywood knows how to make the most out of an onscreen punch. However, none of the Hollywood glitterati at the 2022 Oscars knew how to react to the offscreen altercation in which Will Smith punched host and comedian Chris Rock. Since then, Smith had avoided awards stages altogether, but now, The Hollywood Reporter reports that the star attended the African American Film Critics Association Awards in order to accept a Beacon Award for his performance in Emancipation (an award also accepted by director Antoine Fuqua).

One of the reasons Will Smith showing up on an awards stage is so notable is that it looked like he was previously doing his best to avoid them. For example, Smith won best actor at the NAACP Image Awards for Emancipation, but he was not in attendance. He later expressed his gratitude via Instagram, but many fans felt that Smith avoiding such a high-profile awards ceremony meant that he was trying to stay out of the public eye to avoid the inevitable comparisons to his 2022 Oscar controversy (something even acting legend Eddie Murphy couldn’t resist joking about at the Golden Globes).

It’s not immediately clear why Will Smith would avoid the NAACP Image Awards but show up at the African American Film Critics Association Awards. It could be as simple as the fact that Smith is very proud of the work he did in Emancipation and, now that more people are taking notice of it and giving him prestigious awards, he felt it was important to show up in person and not simply express his gratitude via social media. Unfortunately, Smith didn’t notice how quickly and effectively he stepped into a huge pile of irony while giving his speech.

At first, Will Smith highlighted how Emancipation “was the most individual difficult film of my entire career,” largely due to its period setting (the film takes place in the 1860s). But the star then spent a huge chunk of the speech describing how violated he felt when one of his costars went off-script and actually spit on Smith in the middle of a take that ended up not getting used.

Smith joked about how he would have clutched pearls if he was wearing them, not seeming to realize that it was less than a year ago when everyone in the room (and viewers across the world) clutched their metaphorical pearls when Smith went off-script and assaulted Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards (while some debate whether it was more of a punch or a slap, we can all agree it was way worse than spittle).

Then again, it’s arguable that Will Smith punching Chris Rock was never as big of a deal as everyone thought it would be. After all, Smith ended up winning Best Actor for his performance in King Richard that very night, which meant that his violently attacking another actor may not have negatively impacted his career that much. Now, he is racking up awards for yet another powerful performance. And while Smith is forbidden from attending the Oscars for another nine years or so, he clearly hasn’t missed a step as an actor.

Ultimately, only time will tell if Will Smith showing up to an awards stage was an impulse decision on the actor’s part or part of a larger campaign to get the public to forget about last year’s controversy (which some fans dubbed #SlapGate).

And it’s entirely possible that this year’s Academy Awards will have some other unscripted controversy that helps everyone forget about Smith’s actions. If nothing else, maybe Smith can give the public something else to freak out about…may we suggest another wacky song to play over the ending credits of the upcoming Aladdin sequel?