The second biggest moment of Will Smith’s Oscar night came when he won for best actor for his role in King Richard.
In a tearful acceptance speech, Smith thanked Venus and Serena Williams for allowing him to tell their father’s story on the tennis courts of Compton.
“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 most strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met.
"I got to protect Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton,” the 53-year-old actor said, naming his on-screen wife and daughters.
“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know we do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse and you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you.
"In this business, you’ve gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you have to smile and pretend like that’s OK. I want to be a vessel for love.”
Smith beat out Javier Bardem for Being The Ricardos, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Power Of The Dog, Andrew Garfield for Tick, Tick ... Boom! and Denzel Washington for The Tragedy Of Macbeth.
But through the joy, Smith also delivered apologies to the Academy and his fellow nominees, just minutes after he slapped presenter Chris Rock for making fun of wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia, to which Smith responded by telling the comedian to “get my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth.”
“Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father,” Smith said, chuckling. “Love will make you do crazy things.”
Through tears, Smith said, “I want to apologise to the Academy. I want to apologise to all of my fellow nominees.”
Rock did not get a public apology.
This marks Smith’s third Oscar nomination, but his first win. He was previously nominated for the boxing biopic Ali in 2002 and for The Pursuit Of Happyness in 2006.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, King Richard landed six nominations in total, including best picture, supporting actress for Aunjanue Ellis as Venus and Serena's mother and original screenplay.
In the crowd-pleasing biographical drama, Smith delivers the kind of performance – anchored by the true story of a dedicated-to-a-fault dad to rising sports stars – that Oscar voters love to recognise.
But Smith previously told the New York Times that he once worried The Pursuit Of Happyness would be the apex of his Hollywood career, despite having dozens of film roles since then.
"I thought I had reached my artistic pinnacle," he said. "So for the world to respond to this film in this way energizes me as an artist.
"I'm just wildly inspired to create and even to to be able to tell stories like this."
At this year's SAG Awards, in one of Smith's many recent and moving awards season speeches, the 53-year-old actor called Richard Williams "a dreamer like no one has ever known."
"He has a power of belief that borders on insanity and sometimes tips over the border, which is absolutely necessary to take something from impossible to possible," Smith said. – Agencies