Will Smith's Most Controversial Moments Ever

Over the course of his career, Will Smith has had 10 movies gross over $150 million at the global box office in a row. He and collaborator DJ Jazzy Jeff made hip-hop history when the duo took home a trophy at the Grammy Awards for "Parents Just Don't Understand" in 1989. And by the time he turned 18, the Philadelphia-raised actor and musician had gone from inner-city kid to millionaire. By all accounts, Smith has been incredibly successful, and remains, almost four decades into his career, one of Hollywood's consistently bankable multi-talents.

But a tenure like that doesn't come without some controversy. After all, nobody's perfect, regardless of how well they can act, rap, or how frequently they give to charity (and Smith, who has two foundations and often makes donations to causes close to his heart, gives back regularly). Below, we're going to take a closer look at some of the star's most controversial moments. 

From Will Smith's jaw-dropping assault of Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards to his association with the Church of Scientology, these incidents have provoked strong reactions amongst even his most devoted fans.

The slap heard 'round the world

Let's start with Will Smith's outburst at the 2022 Academy Awards. Midway through the ceremony, Chris Rock took to the stage to crack a few jokes and announce the winner of the best documentary feature (which, incidentally, went to Questlove for "Summer of Soul"). Toward the end of his riff, Rock joked about Jada Pinkett Smith's buzz-cut hairstyle — a new look for her that came on the heels of an alopecia diagnosis

Initially, it looked like Will was going to take the controversial jab in stride, but as the cameras panned away, he seemingly had a change of heart and stormed on stage to slap Rock across the face before returning to his seat. While the network quickly hit the mute button, Will heatedly told Rock, "Keep my wife's name out your f***ing mouth!" Unsurprisingly, everyone watching — whether in the audience or in the comfort of their own homes — was stunned. Twitter lit up with hot takes and news outlets started pumping out think pieces on the appropriateness of Will's reaction. When he was called up minutes later to accept his own Oscar for best actor, the "King Richard" star issued a semi-apology to those in attendance, noting how his real-life character was "a fierce defender of his family," and that "love will make you do crazy things."

Notably absent, however, was an apology to Rock, which didn't come until a full 24 hours later on Instagram. "I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris," the post read in part. "I was out of line and I was wrong."

Will Smith and the original slap

The 2022 Academy Awards wasn't the first time Will Smith had resorted to physical violence when confronted with a joke he didn't like. Back in 2012, while walking the red carpet for the "Men in Black 3" premiere in Moscow, Russia, the actor lightly slapped and pushed a Ukrainian journalist-comedian, Vitalii Seduik, who attempted to kiss him on the cheek. In video footage of the incident, Smith can be heard asking the reporter, "Come on, man, what the hell is your problem?" as he storms away.

A few months later, on "The Late Show with David Letterman," Smith explained his perspective on the situation, saying he had agreed to give Seduik a hug, but was thrown off when the other man seemed to lean in for a kiss. When the reporter's peers tried to diffuse the situation by explaining that the move was just "his shtick," Smith responded, "Well, that's why his a** got shtuck." 

For his part, the reporter apologized to Smith publicly telling Hip Hollywood (via the Daily Mail), "I apologize for my behavior. ... I think it was too much. I just wanted to do something extraordinary to impress him." While the whole incident was much less dramatic than Smith's Academy Awards slap, it does seem to demonstrate the actor's history of escalating things in awkward situations.

The colorism controversy

Back to the 2022 Academy Awards ... the reason Will Smith was in attendance in the first place was because he had been nominated for best actor for his role as Serena and Venus Williams' father, Richard Williams, in the biopic "King Richard." While his turn as the tough-as-nails tennis coach and dad was much lauded, it didn't come without controversy. 

When Deadline broke the news back in 2019 that the actor had been tapped for the role, some critics were immediately outraged over the choice, citing the fact that Smith has a much lighter skin tone than the real-life Richard Williams. Sportswriter Clarence Hill Jr. led the charge, tweeting, "Colorism matters ... love Will Smith but there are other Black actors for this role." Most people seemed to agree with Hill's take, with some even going so far as to suggest white stars portray the Williams sisters if the casting was going to be that "messy." 

The issue is, of course, a nuanced one, and while Hollywood is certainly guilty of miscasting and offering roles to white, able-bodied actors that shouldn't necessarily belong to them, others disagreed with the criticism, saying there was nothing wrong with a Black man playing a Black man. For his part, Smith never commented on the controversy himself, nor did he step back from the part, which probably tells us everything we need to know about his opinion on the matter.

Will Smith's longtime feud with the original Aunt Viv

Generally speaking, Will Smith seems like a pretty happy and friendly human being — but according to former co-star Janet Hubert, who played the original Aunt Viv on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," he supposedly isn't always the kind soul he appears to be. 

As highlighted by ABC 7, during the early seasons of the sitcom, Hubert earned a reputation for allegedly being difficult on set, which stemmed from butting heads with Smith over his brand of humor and reported refusal to help his co-stars renegotiate their contracts. It was an unfortunate characterization that stuck and made Hubert, whose role was recast ahead of Season 4 due to contractual issues, virtually unemployable in the industry. She filed a defamation lawsuit against Smith in 1993, claiming "intentional infliction of emotional distress" after he allegedly "influenced NBC to reduce her salary and air time" and "hurt her marketability" (via the Chicago Tribune). She lost, but the ordeal brought on a nearly three-decade-long feud, which saw both stars publicly trading barbs. 

It wasn't until 2020 that the pair made amends while taping HBO's "Fresh Prince" reunion special, which Hubert attended on Smith's last-minute invite. "Calling a Black woman 'difficult' in Hollywood is the kiss of death," Hubert told Smith during their heart-to-heart sit down (via PopSugar), explaining, "I lost everything." Smith publicly apologized, and the duo have remained on good terms (Hubert even defended his behavior at the 2022 Oscars), but we'll leave it to you to decide whether that excuses his alleged bad-boy on-set behavior.

The nepotism accusations

The Smith family — Will, Jada, Jaden, and Willow — are a tight-knit unit, who don't hesitate to stick up and show up for each other. And while that closeness is certainly a testament to Will, many have argued that the clan occasionally takes it a bit too far. More specifically, some critics have accused the patriarch of nepotism ... and they may have a point. 

A quick glance through Jaden Smith's IMDb page, for example, will show you that of the more well-known big screen acting credits the young actor has, most are from projects that have been produced by one of his parents ("All of Us," "The Pursuit of Happyness," "Karate Kid," and "After Earth"). In his 2021 self-titled memoir, Will opened up about the nepotism accusations. Of "The Pursuit of Happyness," he wrote that the studio didn't want to cast Jaden because "it would seem like nepotism, and just put us in the hole from the first announcement" (via Insider). Still, the concerns didn't keep the Smiths from pushing for Jaden to get the part, and eventually, they had their way (thanks, in part, to vocal support from director Gabriele Muccino). 

The favoritism isn't something that's slipped by fans, either. One commenter on Reddit, for example, who asked, "Has anyone in Hollywood benefited from nepotism more than Jaden Smith?" got dozens of upvotes. It's also backfired on the Smiths. See: the critical response and box office bombing of "After Earth," which saw the masses calling out Jaden's acting abilities. As Will told Esquire (via The Things), "That was the most painful failure in my career."

Will Smith doesn't believe in discipline

There's no denying that the Smiths are known as an "out there" family, and Will Smith's parenting philosophy is a clear demonstration of that. In a now-deleted interview with Metro (via E! News), the star explained how he and Jada Pinkett Smith don't believe in disciplining their kids. He told the outlet, "We don't do punishment. The way we deal with our kids is, they are responsible for their lives. Our concept is, as young as possible, give them as much control over their lives as possible and the concept of punishment, our experience has been — it has a little too much of a negative quality."

The progressive approach struck the wrong chord with many fans, who felt that the actor's parenting style was not helpful to his young children, but rather kept him from protecting them. The criticism ramped up in 2014 when a 13-year-old Willow Smith was photographed in bed with actor Moises Arias (who was 20 at the time), an incident that eventually led to an investigation into the Smiths by Child Protective Services. In an interview with BBC Radio (via Now To Love) a couple of years after the initial drama, Will admitted in a half-joking manner that he and Jada "may have gone too far" in their hands-off approach, and perhaps should have kept a tighter rein on Jaden and Willow. 

Regardless of whether you think the Smiths were wrong in their parenting approach or not, there's no denying that it's led to two wildly creative artists.

He's been accused of abandoning his older son

Casual fans of Will Smith may not know that he actually has a third child from his first marriage to Sheree Zampino. Trey Smith, who was born in 1992, primarily lived with his mother following his parents' divorce in 1995, and, as a result, spent much of his life outside of the spotlight. Will's absence from his day-to-day life was apparently quite hard on the youngster: According to a 2018 Instagram post shared by the "Fresh Prince" alum, Trey felt "betrayed & abandoned" for a long time following the split, with Will revealing how he and his eldest child "struggled for years" to develop a close relationship, particularly after the star moved on with his new family.

Divorce is never easy when kids are involved, especially when one parent winds up having more kids with a new partner, and Will has expressed regret over Trey feeling neglected. During an episode of his "Bucket List" show on Facebook Watch the following year (via Showbiz CheatSheet), Will admitted that it had only been in more recent years that he and Trey had begun "healing and overcoming" their rift. As he added in that same Instagram post, "It is a Wild Blessing to recover & restore a Loving Relationship with My Beautiful Son!"

Luckily, the two are still on good terms these days — and Trey, who's a DJ and producer and uses the moniker AcE, has even collaborated with half-siblings Jaden and Willow Smith on various musical projects, including 2012's "Find You Somewhere."

Will Smith had feelings for Jada when he was still married

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith often paint their love story as one for the ages, and they certainly have been through a lot together, so on some level, that's very deserved. However, the couple has seemingly glossed over the fact that their entanglement began when Will was still technically married to his first wife, Sheree Zampino. 

In a 2018 interview with Access, Jada let it slip that when Will first reached out to initiate a more-than-friends relationship, he wasn't exactly fully free to do so. "He was just separated," she explained. "... He was 'div-.' The '-orced' hadn't happened yet." The couple has maintained that they weren't physically involved until Will finalized his divorce, but emotional affairs can be just as devastating — and judging by Will's confessions on "Red Table Talk" at the time, his heart had certainly strayed well before he made any move to end things with Zampino. 

During the sit-down interview, Will recalled how, at a certain point in his first marriage, "I had a realization that I wasn't with the person I was supposed to be with," but added, "I would have never gotten divorced." Instead of being honest with Zampino and calling time on that partnership, he privately and tearfully worked through his mixed emotions and resolved to remain physically faithful and married, even if he was only half in it. Ultimately, Zampino did what Will could not and asked for a divorce, which allowed him to take up with Jada in earnest promptly after signing those divorce papers.

He once wanted 'a harem of girlfriends'

Much has been made of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's open relationship, and while their arrangement may seem unusual to some, we see nothing controversial about two consenting adults living their lives the way they feel is best. What some may take umbrage with, however, are the more misogynistic comments Will once made about his ideal love life. Specifically, when he divulged in a 2021 GQ profile his fantasy to have "a harem of girlfriends," while name-dropping the likes of ballet star Misty Copeland and actor Halle Berry.

Smith elaborated, "I don't know where I saw it or some s**t as a teenager, but the idea of traveling with 20 women that I loved and took care of and all of that, it seemed like a really great idea." Obviously, he never acted on the impulse, eventually realizing that it wouldn't be nearly as fun of an existence as he first imagined. And look, there's nothing necessarily wrong with briefly entertaining these thoughts (especially if you do so in a safe space with an intimacy coach the way Smith did, treating it more as a thought exercise than a real lifestyle to put in place). He even added to GQ, "After we played it out a little bit, I was like, 'That would be horrific. ... Can you imagine how miserable?'"

That said, some might argue it's controversial or at least odd, as The Cut noted, to share those private thoughts with the world, especially ones that might negatively affect certain people.

Will Smith has been associated with Scientology

For years, fans have speculated about whether or not Will Smith is an active member of the Church of Scientology. Over the course of his decades-long career, he's taken a variety of stances on the religion, sometimes cozying up to the church and other times firmly distancing himself from its controversial tenets. 

In 2008, for example, Smith told Access that "the ideas of the Bible are 98% the same as Scientology." But in a more recent episode of "Red Table Talk," the actor said flat-out, "We've [he and wife Jada Pinkett Smith] never been Scientologists." Confusing matters even more, however, is the fact that many of Smith's movies reportedly contain Scientology references and themes — Vulture even called his sci-fi flick "After Earth" a "love letter to Scientology" in 2013. Additionally, the Daily Mail reported that, in 2007, Will and Jada donated over $122,000 to the church. But according to a March 2022 tweet from reporter Tony Ortega, "Will and Jada Smith have been out of #Scientology since at least 2015. (Jada was heavy into it, Will was a dabbler.)"

We may never know whether he's a card-carrying member of the controversial religious movement or not, but the mere fact that Will Smith hasn't outright condemned Scientology may be enough of a problem for some fans, especially as more allegations come out of how the church has left some lives in ruins, per The Guardian

The Smiths and their controversial New Village school

One thing that has made many fans positive Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith may be actively involved in — or at least, have previously been involved in — Scientology is the controversial school they opened back in 2008. The New Village Leadership Academy, as it was called, was described by former teachers and administrators to The Daily Beast as "essentially a Scientology school." 

Started in one of the couple's unused California homes, the school educated a handful of kids in regular subjects like math and science. However, all of the New Village's subjects were taught via a teaching method called study technology, which has its roots in the religion, per ABC News. Throughout the school's tenure — it quietly closed its doors in 2013 — both Will and Jada firmly maintained that it was not, in fact, a Scientology school and that they were not attempting to indoctrinate their students in the religion through devious or dishonest methods. Still, education experts told ABC News that the venture "didn't seem sound educationally," and Leah Remini — famously a former high-level Scientologist — has gone on the record claiming that study technology is a back-door way of getting people involved in the religion. 

Whether furthering the church's objectives was the Smiths' plan or not, the school and its methods remained contentious enough that after just five years in operation, it had lost nearly all of its pupils and was forced to shut down.