Will Smith says he intentionally ‘avoided making films about slavery’ because he ‘didn’t want to show Black people in that light’

Will Smith wears a plaid shirt at the premiere of 'Bad Boys for Life' in January 2020.
Will Smith spoke about his acting career in a new interview with GQ. Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
  • Will Smith said that he intentionally “avoided making films about slavery” early in his career.
  • “I didn’t want to show Black people in that light,” the actor told GQ in a new cover story.
  • Smith will star in the new movie “Emancipation,” which he said is about “the power of Black love.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Will Smith said that throughout his acting career, he purposely avoided being part of movies about slavery.

“I’ve always avoided making films about slavery,” Smith, 53, said in a new interview for the November 2021 cover of GQ. “In the early part of my career … I didn’t want to show Black people in that light.”

The actor continued: “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. And the first time I considered it was ‘Django,’ but I didn’t want to make a slavery film about vengeance.”

Smith previously opened up about turning down the titular role in Quentin Tarantino‘s 2012 film “Django Unchained” back in 2015. The part ultimately went to Jamie Foxx.

“It was about the creative direction of the story,” he said during a roundtable interview for The Hollywood Reporter. “To me, it’s as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect. And it was just that Quentin and I couldn’t see [eye to eye]. I wanted to make the greatest love story that African-Americans had ever seen.”

“I wanted to make that movie so badly, but I felt the only way was, it had to be a love story, not a vengeance story,” Smith added. “I don’t believe in violence as the reaction to violence.”

Smith rose to prominence as a rapper before his starring role on the hit 90s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Will smith fresh prince of bel air
Will Smith on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.’ NBC

He went on to star in a plethora of box office hits, including the “Bad Boys” films, “Independence Day,” and the “Men in Black” movies. In recent years, he played the DC Comics character Deadshot in “Suicide Squad” and portrayed the genie in Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Aladdin.”

In his upcoming Apple TV+ film titled “Emancipation,” Smith will play a runaway slave named Peter. The movie’s premise is based on a real-life story and inspired by a famous image of Peter’s back that was scarred from being whipped. The photo, published in The Independent in 1863, is referred to as “The Scourged Back.”

Smith told GQ that he was interested in telling this particular story about slavery because “this was one that was about love and the power of Black love.”

“And that was something that I could rock with,” he added. “We were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible.”