Will Smith Explains Why He Avoided Making Movies About Slavery: 'I Wanted to Be a Superhero'

Will Smith next stars in Emancipation as Peter, the real-life runaway slave known for the picture of his heavily-scarred back

will smith
Will Smith. Photo: Isa Foltin/WireImage

Will Smith avoided tackling slavery in his body of work for a very important reason.

The actor was profiled in a new cover story for GQ where he explained why his previous movies haven't touched on slavery.

"I've always avoided making films about slavery," Smith, 53, said. "In the early part of my career… I didn't want to show Black people in that light. I wanted to be a superhero. So I wanted to depict Black excellence alongside my white counterparts. I wanted to play roles that you would give to Tom Cruise."

Smith's stance has evolved as he now stars in the upcoming film Emancipation as Peter, a real-life runaway slave who fought to evade his hunters through the Louisiana swamp in his journey to join the Union army. Peter is known for the photo of his heavily scarred back.

"This was one that was about love and the power of Black love," Smith said of choosing to make Emancipation. "And that was something that I could rock with. We were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible."

Emancipation counts on Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) as director with William N. Collage writing the script. Apple Studios will be releasing the film.

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Smith's GQ profile also delves into his upcoming memoir Will and how the actor always reached out to friend Denzel Washington when in need of advice.

Smith said Washington, 66, was the person he always turned to when his films didn't perform at the box office as expected, and when struggling with his personal relationships.

"Throughout the years, I would always call Denzel. He's a real sage," Smith said. "I was probably 48 or something like that and I called Denzel. He said, 'Listen. You've got to think of it as the funky 40. Everybody's 40s are funky.' "

"He said, 'But just wait till you hit the f----it 50s,' " Smith continued. "He said, 'Just bear with your 40s.' I stopped and I was like, 'The funky 40s and the f----it 50s.' And that's exactly what happened. It just became the f----it 50s, and I gave myself the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do."

Smith's new film, King Richard, is in theaters and on HBO Max on November 19.

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