Will Smith has won the Oscar for best actor at the 94th Academy Awards, currently under way at the Dolby theatre in Los Angeles.
Smith won the prize for his role as Richard Williams, father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, in King Richard, a biopic that outlined Williams’ role in the sisters’ stellar success. The film was directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and stars Smith in the title role, alongside Aunjanue Ellis as his wife Brandy, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena, and Jon Bernthal as tennis coach Rick Macci. Venus and Serena Williams acted as executive producers on the project.
Smith had already been responsible for the evening’s major drama after he appeared to hit presenter Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
“Take my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” he yelled at Rock, twice. In the advert breaks, Smith could be seen wiping tears from his eyes and being comforted by others in the room.
Taking to the stage, Smith addressed the controversy with reference to the character he played in King Richard.
“Oh man,” he said. “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. 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 strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, the two actresses 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. And I know we do what we do and you gotta be able to take abuse and have people talk crazy about you. In this business, people abuse you and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s ok.
“I wanna be a vessel for love, I wanna say thank you to Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family for entrusting me with your story. I wanna be an ambassador for that kind of love and care and concern.
“I wanna apologise to the Academy and to all my fellow nominees. This is a beautiful moment and I’m crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me it’s about being able to shine a light on all of the people, the entire cast and crew.”
Continuing to wipe away tears, Smith said: “Art imitates life! I looked like the crazy father, just like they said. But love will make you do crazy things.”
Smith finished by thanking his mother, who he said couldn’t attend as she was busy with her knitting circle. “Thank you for this moment,” he concluded. “I hope the Academy invites me back.”
Smith has already won numerous awards for his role in the film, including best actor at the Bafta and Critics Choice awards, and best actor (drama) at the Golden Globes. At the Oscars, Smith has been successful at the third attempt, having been nominated twice before for best actor: for Ali in 2002 and The Pursuit of Happyness in 2007.