Will Smith was supposed to have a big Oscar evening. The movie star was widely expected to win his first Academy Award on Sunday for his leading role in King Richard, the biopic about Serena and Venus Williams’s father Richard that had already earned the actor a slew of accolades, including the BAFTA, SAG, and Golden Globe this year.
But when Smith first took the stage on Sunday at the Dolby Theater, it was for a shocking reason—to slap Chris Rock after the presenter made a joke about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The moment surprised Oscar viewers, who initially thought that the hit was a scripted prank. Smith later took the stage to accept his Oscar in an emotional speech that made clear the moment hadn’t been planned—he apologized to the Academy as tears streamed down his face. “I hope the Academy invites me back,” Smith said solemnly.
When Smith made it to the Vanity Fair Oscar party several hours later, however, the actor was in better spirits. Surrounded by wife Jada, daughter Willow, and sons Trey and Jaden, as well as a protective circle of friends, the actor strode down the party’s sapphire blue carpet outside the Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills and found the dance floor. While party guests like Kristen Stewart, Bill Murray, Diane Lane, and Schitt’s Creek co-star and creator Dan Levy shimmied at the edges of the dance floor, Smith and his entourage took center stage to celebrate. The D.J. switched tracks to Smith’s 1997 summer anthem “Gettin Jiggy Wit It,” and a circle formed around the the actor to see him dance, new Oscar in hand, to the classic track. (Jack Quaid was one of many actors fleshing out the cheering circle.) Fellow Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o beelined towards Smith to embrace him.
In the previous hours, however, the party struggled—like the Academy Awards audience—to make sense of the shocking moment.
“I’m still not over it,” Zoe Kravitz said in the courtyard hours earlier, exhaling a plume of cigarette smoke underneath the palm trees. When a friend interrupted and asked what she was referring to, she said, “The slap.”
“What was the reaction in the room?” the friend asked.
“Weird,” she said.
Meanwhile, the pregnant Game of Thrones actor Sophie Turner—dressed in a red mock-neck gown—pantomimed the slap with fellow actor Evan Peters. “What was that?” they both asked.
Sienna Miller said she loved the moment. “I hope you would do the same for me,” Miller told her date.
About a hundred guests, including Donald Glover, J. J. Abrams, Ron Howard, Jean Smart, Brian Grazer, Mindy Kaling, Jon Hamm, Ronan Farrow, Amanda Peet, and Patricia Clarkson, had joined Vanity Fair editor-in-chief and party host Radhika Jones for dinner at the party site. The guests sat inside a dining room designed by Basil Walter and Brenda Bello, and dined on hors d’oeuvres and dinner catered by Los Angeles restaurant Mother Wolf. When Smith slapped Rock onscreen, the partygoers expressed confusion—pulling out their cell phones to inspect the footage in Zapruder-like detail.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism