Will Smith says that prejudice could not have affected his massively successful acting career because, at the end of the day, “everybody is prejudiced” – but “racism is actually rare,” the star notes, and “America is the only place on Earth” that allows “people that look like” him the opportunity to be a star.
The actor was interviewed with five other A-listers for The Hollywood Reporter‘s Actor Roundtable conversation when he was asked whether prejudice had affected his decades-long acting career.
“My wife and I were just having this conversation, and we were going to the dictionary for ‘prejudice’ versus ‘racism,'” Smith replied, adding:
Everybody is prejudiced. Everybody has their life experiences that make them prefer one thing over another — it makes them prefer blond hair over a brunette; if you see somebody with dark skin walking down the street, you have a different reaction than you have [with] someone who is 5-foot-1 and white. But there is a connotation with racism of superiority: You feel that your race generally is superior. And I have to say, I live with constant prejudice, but racism is actually rare — someone who thinks their race is superior. I don’t want to work for them. I don’t want to work at that company. And the times I have come in contact with it, you get away from those people.
Smith said that he had come into contact with racism before, but that movies represent “the ultimate forum for changing people’s hearts and minds.”
“A large part of the way that America is viewed globally is from the historical imagery that we have sent around the world through cinema. Any time I put something in the world, I am always connecting to an idea,” he explained. “I’m always asking, ‘Why am I making this?’ With [NFL head trauma film] Concussion, Dr. Bennet Omalu was deeply connected to tell the truth. And he said that truth doesn’t have a side. I thought that was such a powerful idea. Whose side are you on? Are you a Republican or a Democrat? I’m just trying to tell the truth. The truth doesn’t have a side.”
Speaking more in-depth about his role in the upcoming Concussion, Smith said the NFL did not pressure the filmmakers to alter the film in any way to paint itself in a more positive light, though he said he felt conflicted as a “football dad” whose son plays the game. Concussion stars Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first discovered the link between professional football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
“My son was a football player for four years — and I loved it, I loved it,” Smith said. “And the last thing I wanted to do was be the guy who was doing the ‘football is not good’ movie. [But] it was a story about an immigrant, it was a story about American values, and it was things that I really believe in. America is the only place on Earth that I could exist. No other country on Earth is producing people that look like me and allowing them to have a global [impact].”
Read the rest of The Hollywood Reporter‘s roundtable discussion with Smith, Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson, Benicio del Toro, Mark Ruffalo, and Joel Edgerton here.