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‘We Don’t Like Will Smith’: Being Black Almost Cost Will Smith His Role in the 1996 Box Office Smash ‘Independence Day’

Throughout the ’90s and the early 2000s Will Smith became known for his summer blockbuster films. 

But, even with his rapper-turned-sitcom-star power, the film that sent him to the stratosphere of Hollywood success, “Independence Day,” almost didn’t land in his hands.

Will Smith almost lost the role in “Independence Day” after executives didn’t think a Black man could do well internationally. Photo: “Independence Day” film/ Screenshot

The film’s director, Roland Emmerich, and co-writer and producer Dean Delvin opened up last week to The Hollywood Reporter about some of the difficulties they experienced while trying to bring the production to fruition. One of those hurdles happened to be getting 20th Century Fox to bank on Smith’s ability to carry the film both domestically and internationally.

“It was pretty clear it had to be Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum [the film’s co-lead],” said Emmerich. But the studio saw things differently. “The studio said, “No, we don’t like Will Smith. He’s unproven. He doesn’t work in international [market].”

And so Emmerich and Delvin’s battle to get the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star cast in the lead role began. While Fox thought, “cast a Black guy in the part, you’re going to kill foreign [box office],” the Emmerich and Delvin argued otherwise.

“Well, the movie is about space aliens. It’s going to do fine foreign,” Delvin said. “It was a big war, and Roland [Emmerich] really stood up for [Smith] — and we ultimately won that war.” The film opened July Fourth weekend of 1996 with $104.3 million at the box office. Globally, it eventually reached $817.4 million, making it one of the highest-grossing films at the time.

For several years to follow, Smith became dubbed “The King of Fourth of July.” His success was undeniable as he became the only actor to lead eight consecutive films that grossed more than $100 million domestically, and more than $150 million internationally. But not all that glittered was gold for Hollywood’s go-to actor. In 2016 Smith revealed that he found himself jaded by his own success.

“I had so much success that I started to taste global blood and my focus shifted from my artistry to winning,” Smith said during a session at the Cannes Lions International Festival. “I wanted to win and be the biggest movie star, and what happened was there was a lag — around ‘Wild Wild West’ time — I found myself promoting something because I wanted to win versus promoting something because I believed in it.”

Fast-forward to today, and Smith’s social media presence proves he is a lot more about doing the things he is passionate about and simply enjoying his life.

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