MTV’s Generation Award is a lifetime achievement award and a thank you to stars in the film industry whose work has changed the game and opened doors for those coming up behind them. Winners have included Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon, and Johnny Depp, and now that Leo has an Oscar to keep him warm, it’s hard to think of movie stars who have achieved more with less reward than this year’s winner, Will Smith.
Smith’s tribute started off with a tribute from The Lonely Island, who did a mash-up of Fresh Prince theme song, Men In Black, and Jiggy—honoring both Smith’s comedy career and his hip-hop roots.
Bringing a more personal touch was Queen Latifah, who thanked Smith for opening doors as the first hip-hop artist and for his humility as a friend and human being. Closing out the lovefest came Oscar winner Halle Berry, who highlighted Will Smith’s work for diversity in Hollywood, and his history proving every stereotype about back artists in Hollywood wrong. Black actors can’t play serious? Black actors can’t open movies internationally? Black actors can’t be romantic leads? Excuse me, have you seen Will Smith?
“When MTV gave me this award, I thought this was an old dude award.”
Displaying exactly the good-natured humor that made him a star, Smith wasn’t above jokes even as he accepted his award, clowning about his age and how his son has stolen his cache with young people.
“I released my first record when I was 17, I’m 47 years old now. This June marks thirty years in this business for me. I mean, The Lonely Island said it, parents just don’t understand, and I’m sitting with my kids sometimes like, I don’t get it!”
Smith started out as a rapper in the 1980’s under Jazzy Jeff in Philadelphia, eventually gaining attention as the Fresh Prince—a persona that quickly outgrew Smith’s hip-hop fame as NBC developed the classic series The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air around Smith’s image. From Bel Air, it was a quick trip to Hollywood as Smith was offered the lead role in Bad Boys with another rising TV star, Martin Lawrence. The movie’s massive success also launched the supersized reign of Michael Bay, and made a rising star of West Philly’s pride and joy, Will Smith. From Bad Boys came Independence Day, Men In Black, and Bad Boys II, and from the cool two billion in cold hard cash that those movies earned at the box office was born Will Smith, global superstar.
By now we’ve seen Will Smith fight robots, vampires, poverty, the NFL, and George Foreman. He’s one of the last real movie stars in the world, still opening films after thirty years in the business, his face a universal symbol for what’s good at the movies and in humanity. And as much as Smith clowned about his age in his speech, he seems well aware of his meaning in the industry and to his audience.
“I’m dedicated to being a light in this world. I want to help people. I want to be a light. I want to play roles that have dignity. There’s so much suffering in this world, and I just want you to know I am dedicated ‘til I die to light and to love.”
Check out all of the Golden Popcorn winners celebrating: