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Will Smith makes 1st appearance at an awards show since the Oscars slap

Don't expect to see Will Smith at this year's Oscars, but the actor has made his return to an awards stage. 

Smith delivered a speech at Wednesday's African American Film Critics Association Awards, his first time speaking in person at an awards ceremony since he slapped Chris Rock at last year's Academy Awards. The actor and his Emancipation director, Antoine Fuqua, accepted the Beacon Award.  

In his speech, Smith described Emancipation as the "individual most difficult film of my entire career" and said that playing the main character, a runaway slave, has "changed my life." The film received mixed reviews and no Oscar nominations. 

"I want to thank all of you in this room for doing what you do, for keeping our stories alive," Smith also said. 

Smith won the Best Actor Oscar in 2022 for King Richard, so he would ordinarily be invited to present Best Actress at next week's Academy Awards. But he has been banned from attending the Oscars for a decade after walking on stage and slapping Rock over a joke about his wife. Smith has apologized for the incident multiple times and said in November he unleashed a "rage that had been bottled for a really long time." He was recently named best actor for Emancipation at the NAACP Image Awards but didn't attend the ceremony. On Instagram, he said he was "absolutely humbled" by the honor. 

The Academy hasn't announced who will present Best Actress instead of Smith. Rock, meanwhile, is expected to address the slap in a new Netflix comedy special set to stream live on March 4 — just over a week before the Oscars.