Will Smith Talks Racism in Hollywood: 'I Live with Constant Prejudice' But 'as Actors, We Have the Ultimate Power'
Will Smith is an Oscar nominee and a staple on Forbes‘ annual list of the world’s highest-paid actors – but the star says he has still “absolutely” experienced racism throughout his storied Hollywood career.
During The Hollywood Reporter‘s 2015 Actor Roundtable, Smith and actors Michael Caine, Benicio Del Toro, Joel Edgerton, Samuel L. Jackson and Mark Ruffalo discussed what they described as prejudice in their industry.
Smith first explained the difference between “prejudice” and “racism,” as they’re defined in the dictionary.
“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,” the Concussion star said. “But there is a connotation with racism of superiority: You feel that your race generally is superior.”
While Smith said that he lives “with constant prejudice,” he added that racism is something he deals with rarely. But he does deal with it.
“I don’t want to work for them [racists]. I don’t want to work at that company,” Smith said. “And the times I have come in contact with it, you get away from those people.”
The star, 47, said, however, that he feels “as actors, we have the ultimate power” when it comes to squashing hate.
“Historically, story combined with imagery moves humanity forward,” he said. “What we do – not that it’s a responsibility, but it is the ultimate forum for changing people’s hearts and minds. So when I’m choosing a movie, I understand the global power of being able to send imagery around the world.”
Smith also told The Hollywood Reporter that whenever he picks a project, he makes sure he fully grasps the bigger picture.
“I’m always asking, ‘Why am I making this?’ ” the actor said. “With 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.”
In Concussion, out Christmas day, Smith plays the real-life forensic pathologist who first discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a disease found in athletes and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
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The actor wasn’t alone in his sentiments – Del Toro shared that when he first began to audition for roles in America he was told to change his name.
“Maybe that’s one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever done, not changing my name,” Del Toro said.
But Smith contended that American cinema is ahead of the curve when it comes to making films about diverse characters.
“America is the only place on Earth that I could exist,” he said. “No other country on Earth is producing people that look like me and allowing them to have a global [impact].”