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The Real Reason Will Smith Slapped Chris Rock, Director Claims

"No excuses for anyone or anything, but I can say that he’s a good man," filmmaker Antoine Fuqua said.

It will be a long time before movie fans forget Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards. Smith, Rock, and the former's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, have since commented on the shocking moment. Now, another person close to Smith has spoken out about what he thinks is the reason behind the incident.

Antoine Fuqua directed Smith in the upcoming movie Emancipation, and he explained in a new interview with Vanity Fair that he believes what Smith endured during filming may have played a role in the slap. He also defended Smith's character, saying that he "saw a different person" during their work together than he did on the Oscars stage. Read on to learn more about why Fuqua thinks Emancipation may have led to Smith's actions that night.

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Fuqua thinks the trauma of the film impacted Smith.

Emancipation is inspired by the story of an enslaved man known as Whipped Peter and his escape to freedom. Smith plays the lead character and is also a producer of the film. It wrapped two months before the Oscars, and Fuqua believes that the traumatic nature of the story combined with the stressful set may have affected Smith's mindset.

"The movie was supposed to end in October, but we didn't finish that movie until January because of a hurricane, the heat, COVID, a tornado, and 12 other things. It was just crazy, really," Fuqua told Vanity Fair. "It's really hard to release a character who's been brutalized and called the N-word every day—constantly, every day—and still be the nicest person in the world. That, I know."

The Training Day director continued, "So no excuses for anyone or anything, but I can say that he's a good man and I hope that people can forgive him and that we can move forward. I hope Chris and Will find a way to sit together publicly, privately, whatever, and make amends. I think it would be an incredible statement."

He called Smith one of the nicest people he's met.

Antoine Fuqua at the premiere of "The Terminal List" in June 2022
DFree / Shutterstock

Fuqua explained that he was struck by how kind Smith was when they worked together.

"[I]t didn't feel real to me at all, because I was with Will for two years and I haven't met a nicer human being," Fuqua said of finding out about the slap. "I'm being honest about it. He was kind to everyone on the set. Will would go around and hug and shake hands—we had 300-something extras and military. Marines. We had to stop Will from doing that because of COVID. He's funny. He's fun. We had certain extras that were the dead bodies in the graves, and he would go give them money for laying there in that heat over 100 degrees."

Of the Oscars incident, he said he "saw a different person than that one moment in time, and so my reaction was that particular moment is very foreign to me when it comes to Will Smith." He added that he also knows Rock and called him "a good guy too."

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Smith has said the film was "grueling."

Will Smith at the premiere of "Gemini Man" in 2019
Tinseltown / Shutterstock

Smith did not comment on the Oscars incident in his own interview with Vanity Fair, but he did have a response when the journalist suggested it "couldn't have been easy to shake off" playing his Emancipation character.

"Getting into the character of Peter was grueling; physically, emotionally and mentally in every way," Smith said. "Not just for me, but for every single person working on the film. We had therapists and spiritual teachers on set. We had a pastor. The daily reminder of the merciless treatment of a race of people was punishing to our spirits."

He's also apologized to Rock.

Chris Rock and Will Smith on stage at the 2022 Oscars
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

At the Academy Awards on March 27, Smith went on stage and slapped presenter Rock after the comedian made a joke about Pinkett Smith's shaved head. (Pinkett Smith shaved her head due to her alopecia diagnosis, which she has been outspoken about.)

The day after the award show, Smith apologized to Rock in a statement posted on Instagram. He apologized again in a five-minute YouTube video shared in July. As for Rock, he has referenced the situation in his standup comedy shows. During one show, he said, "Anyone who says words hurt has never been punched in the face."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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