Will Smith is slowly returning to the spotlight, giving his first interview since slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars in March.
Joining Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, Smith first discussed his new film, Emancipation.
The film is based on the true story of a man known as ‘Whipped Peter’ (played by Smith) whose scarred back, captured in an 1863 photograph, became one of the most enduring and impactful images of the horrors of slavery.
In conversation, Smith noted that the film captures the period from when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863 to when enslaved people were actually freed on 19 June 1863.
The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free,” however, in Smith’s words, “slaves weren’t free until June 19th.”
He added that after his daughter, Willow, asked him if “we really need another slave movie,” he wanted to clarify: “I promised I wouldn’t make a slave movie; this is a freedom movie.”
After discussing Smith’s first film since winning the Academy Award for his portrayal of Serena and Venus Williams’ father Richard in King Richard, Noah asked about the night Smith walked on stage and slapped Rock because of a joke the comedian made at his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s expense.
“That was a horrific night, as you can imagine. There’s many nuances and complexities to it. But at the end of the day, I just… I lost it,” Smith tells the South African comedian.
Noah offered his perspective on the situation, saying that while many said the incident showed “the real Will Smith,” he felt it was the opposite because “everybody can make a mistake”.
Smith then recalled a moment between himself and his nephew that helped him understand the gravity of his actions.
“My nephew is nine. He is the sweetest little boy. We came home. He had stayed up late to see his uncle Will, and we are sitting in my kitchen, and he is on my lap, and he is holding the Oscar, and he is just like, ‘Why did you hit that man, Uncle Will?'”
Wiping away tears, Smith added that he didn’t want to go further into sharing details that the public might misinterpret.