Things That Matter

Will Smith Says Watching His Mother Be Physically Abused by His Father as a Child ‘Defined’ Who He Is: ‘I Failed Her’

In the wake of the slap that shocked the world at the 94th Academy Awards, people are trying to piece together why an actor as amiable as Will Smith would’ve directed violence towards Chris Rock.

And now, some details of Smith’s life are coming to the surface that can be interpreted as pointers toward his behavior at the Oscars.

In Smith’s recent autobiography, “Will,” the Oscar-winning actor detailed the physical abuse that his mother suffered at the hands of his father, and how his inability to “protect” his mother when he was a child has haunted him ever since.

“When I was nine years old, I watched my father punch my mother in the side of the head so hard that she collapsed,” he wrote in the book. “I saw her spit blood. That moment in that bedroom, probably more than any other moment in my life, has defined who I am.”

He continued: “Within everything that I have done since then — the awards and accolades, the spotlights and the attention, the characters and the laughs — there has been a subtle string of apologies to my mother for my inaction that day. For failing her in that moment. For failing to stand up to my father. For being a coward.”

Smith went on to describe how he has used his persona as a happy-go-lucky, fun action star as a way to protect himself from the pain of his childhood.

“What you have come to understand as ‘Will Smith’… the bigger-than-life movie star, is largely a construction — a carefully crafted and honed character designed to protect myself. To hide myself from the world. To hide the coward,” he wrote.

In the wake of the Chris Rock slap, Smith’s mother, Carolyn Smith, has broken her silence about the altercation, revealing that her son’s behavior was out of character.

“He is a very even, people person,” Carolyn told WPVI. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen him go off. First time in his lifetime.”

In Smith’s acceptance speech for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “King Richard,” he alluded to the fact that he attacked Chris Rock out of a misguided attempt to be the “protector” of his wife.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” he said through tears. “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.”

He went on to say that he got to “protect” Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton when he played Richard Williams on-screen (the actresses who played his wife and two daughters, respectively).

In his speech, he also dedicated his Oscar to his mother. “To my mother… a lot of this moment is really complicated for me, but to my mother. She didn’t want to come out. She had her knitting friends, she has a knitting crew watching with her. Being able to love and care for my mother, my family, my wife.”

Yesterday, Will Smith took to social media to publicly apologize for slapping Chris Rock on Sunday night.

“My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable,” he wrote. “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.”

He went on to directly apologize to Chris Rock, too. “I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”

If you or anyone you know is suffering from intimate partner violence, know that you are not alone. Text or call 800-799-7233 or visit thehotline.org to get help.

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