(L-R) Honorees Antoine Fuqua and Will Smith accept The Beacon Award for
Will Smith at AAFCA, gives first speech since 2022 Oscars Image Credit: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Hollywood star Will Smith returned to awards season festivities, taking the stage to accept the Beacon Award at the African American Film Critics Association Awards (AAFCA).

It marked Smith's first in-person speech at an awards ceremony since controversy at the 2022 Oscars, in which the actor slapped Chris Rock onstage, reports 'Variety'.

Smith's 'Emancipation' co-star Charmaine Bingwa and AAFCA cofounder Gil L. Robertson introduced Smith and Antoine Fuqua, the historical drama's director, in the evening's ceremony. After Fuqua's minute-long thanks to AAFCA, Apple TV+ and the film's cast and crew, Smith took the microphone to recount the production of the film.

'Emancipation' was the individual most difficult film of my entire career. It was all outdoors, that is true," Smith joked, earning laughs from the crowd.

"It was the second day of shooting and 110 degrees... I was in a scene with one of the white actors. The actor decided to ad lib. So we're doing the scene. I did my line. He did his line. And then - ad lib - he spit in the middle of my chest," Smith said as the crowd groaned.

"The actor felt that the ad lib had gone well. So we do take two. I do my line. He does his line - and spits in the middle of my chest again... In the distance, I hear a voice. And Antoine says, 'Hey, let's do a take without the spit.' And in that moment, I knew that God was real."

"I want to thank Gil and AAFCA. I want to thank all of you in this room for doing what you do, keeping our stories alive. I want to thank Apple, because the budget was one thing. And then the budget was another thing. And then the budget was another thing. And Apple never flinched," Smith said.

"It was the first time I had heard from a studio that the story was more important than how much it costs to get it done... They make iPhones. They can do it."