Will Smith won the NAACP Image Award for outstanding actor in a motion picture for his performance in “Emancipation” on Saturday night, marking his first award win since his infamous incident at the 2022 Oscars in which he slapped Chris Rock onstage.
Smith was not present at the ceremony to accept his award in person.
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Set in 19th century Louisiana, Smith portrays a runaway slave who embarks on a treacherous journey to Baton Rouge while thwarting off violent plantation owners. “Emancipation” was inspired by an 1863 photograph known as “Whipped Peter,” which depicts a once-enslaved individual with severe lacerations on his back. The image’s circulation placed the brutality of slavery in front of the eyes of the American public.
After initially delaying “Emancipation” following Smith’s incident at the Oscars, Apple TV+ pivoted to positioning the historical drama as an awards season contender, releasing the film in October. Smith, who doubled as a producer on the film, is set to accept a Beacon Award from the African-American Film Critics Association alongside director Antoine Fuqua on March 1 for their work on the film. The film also scored nominations in two categories at the Black Reel Awards.
Smith’s win comes almost a year after the contentious 2022 Oscars, where the actor slapped Rock after an ill-received joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Moments later, Smith went on to win the Oscar for best actor for his performance in “King Richard.” As a result of the altercation, Smith was banned from all Academy-sponsored events for the next decade.
Daniel Kaluuya (“Nope”), Jonathan Majors (“Devotion”), Joshua Boone (“A Jazzman’s Blues”) and Sterling K. Brown (“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul”) were also contending in the actor in a motion picture category at the NAACP Image Awards.
A four-day virtual awards presentation led up to the Feb. 25 NAACP Image Awards, held in-person for the first time since February 2020. Live from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Queen Latifah hosted the 54th annual awards show, which crowned winners in this year’s motion picture and television categories. See the full list of winners.