During his acceptance speech later in the night, Smith confirmed the incident was real. He apologized to the Academy — but not to Rock — and emotionally explained how he feels he needs to "protect" people in life. Tonight, that person he was protecting was his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
It all went down when Rock came out to present an award for Best Documentary. On stage, the comedian made a joke about Pinkett Smith, who was sitting next to Smith in the audience.
"Jada, I love ya. G.I. Jane 2 — can't wait to see it, all right?" laughed Rock.
Smith seemed to be laughing at first, while his wife didn't look thrilled about the joke. (The Red Table Talk host has been open about her hair loss condition, alopecia.) Suddenly, Smith stormed the stage and hit Rock in the face before returning to his seat.
Here's the moment Chris Rock made a "G.I. Jane 2" joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, prompting Will Smith to punch him and yell, "Leave my wife’s name out of your f--king mouth." #Oscars pic.twitter.com/kHTZXI6kuL
— Variety (@Variety) March 28, 2022
— Beer Me That Bravo (@beerMEthatBravo) March 28, 2022
While most of the interaction was muted on U.S. television, an uncensored version aired internationally that made the confrontation seem like the bit was not rehearsed.
"Will Smith just smacked the s*** out of me," said Rock after the incident, seemingly stunned.
"Keep my wife's name out your f***ing mouth," yelled Smith from the audience.
"It was a G.I Jane joke," said Rock.
"Keep my wife's name out your f***ing mouth," yelled Smith, again.
"I'm going to, OK?" replied Rock.
UNCENSORED WILL SMITH FOOTAGE AS SHOWN ON AUSTRALIAN TV pic.twitter.com/NcRfdjWxqe
— David Mack (@davidmackau) March 28, 2022
Rock went on with presenting award but stumbled a bit during the intro and seemed legitimately shocked. The next presenter, Sean "Diddy" Combs, offered to mediate for the two men after the show.
Reporters working inside the Dolby Theater immediately said the incident was real. Smith reportedly had to be calmed down after the incident by his famous friends.
During the commercial break, Will Smith is pulled aside and comforted by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, who motion for him to brush it off. Will appears to wipe tears from his eyes as he sits back down with Jada, with Denzel comforting Jada and Will’s rep by his side. pic.twitter.com/uDGVnWrSS2
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) March 28, 2022
— Ramin Setoodeh (@RaminSetoodeh) March 28, 2022
Someone who works for the Oscars told me that Chris Rock was not interrupted by Will Smith at rehearsals yesterday. It was not supposed to happen. It was real. #Oscars
— Ramin Setoodeh (@RaminSetoodeh) March 28, 2022
Soon after the altercation, Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor for playing Venus and Serena Williams's father, Richard, in King Richard. He addressed the situation during his acceptance speech.
"Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family," Smith began, visibly emotional. "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."
The actor continued, "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 to do what we do you gotta be able to take abuse, you gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and pretend like that's OK."
Smith then revealed what fellow Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington had told him a few minutes before: "At your highest moment, be careful. That's when the devil comes for you."
Smith said he wants to be "a vessel for love."
"I want to apologize to the Academy; I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees," he said. "This is a beautiful moment and I'm not crying for winning an award. ... Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams. But love will make you do crazy things."
Rock isn't pressing charges, according to Los Angeles police.
"LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program. The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report," a spokesperson for the LAPD told Yahoo Entertainment.
In a statement released after the ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Oscars, issued a statement saying that it "does not condone violence of any form."
The Academy does not condone violence of any form.
Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) March 28, 2022
Yahoo reached out to reps for Rock and Smith, but did not immediately receive responses. Smith also declined to address the media in the press room following the show.