Will Smith makes his first appearance at the awards show since the 2022 Oscars

(CNN) Will Smith returned to the stage in person for the first time since slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars last year.

Smith accepted the Beacon Award at the African American Film Critics Association Awards on Wednesday alongside his “Emancipation” director Antoine Fuqua.

After Fuqua spoke, thanking the cast and crew, he passed the mic to Smith.

“‘Emancipation’ was the hardest movie of my entire career,” Smith said. “It’s really hard to transport a modern spirit in this time. It’s hard to imagine that level of inhumanity.”

Smith plays an enslaved man named Peter in the AppleTV+ movie and described filming a scene where another actor improvised and spat on him during a take.

“It was day two of shooting and 110 degrees,” he said. “I was in a scene with one of the white actors, and we had our lines, and the actor decided to improvise. So, we do the scene. I did my line. He did his line . And then he improvised and spat in the middle of my chest. If I had pearls, I definitely would have grabbed them. I wanted to say “Antoineeeeeee”, but I stopped and realized that Peter couldn’t have call the manager.”

Smith continued to describe the scene.

“We take two. I make my line. He makes his line and spits in the middle of my chest again. I just held on then, and there was a part – it makes me cry right now – there was a part of me that was grateful that I was able to really relate,” Smith said. “And then, in the distance, I hear a voice, and Antoine says: ‘Hey, we’re going to do a take without spitting.’ And in that moment I knew God was real.”

Smith didn’t attend the NAACP Image Awards last weekend, where he won Best Actor for his performance in the film, but he expressed his gratitude on social media for the recognition.

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