Will Smith nearly missed out on ‘Independence Day’ role because he’s Black

Will Smith nearly missed out on 'Independence Day' role because he's Black
Will Smith (Photo credit: Bang Media)

One of the biggest box office stars in modern Hollywood history, Will Smith, was nearly passed over for his role in the classic film epic Independence Day because he is Black.

ID4 director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin were adamant about hiring Smith for the leading role of Captain Steven Hillard. But studio heads repeatedly balked because they did not believe Smith would translate overseas.

As they prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ID4, Devlin told The Hollywood Reporter that Emmerich went to war against the studios to include Smith in the film that also starred Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Judd Hirsch and Randy Quaid.

“The studio said, ‘No, we don’t like Will Smith. He’s unproven. He doesn’t work in international [markets]’,” Emmerich told THR. 

“[Fox] said, ‘You cast a Black guy in this part, you’re going to kill foreign [box office],’” Devlin added. “Our argument was, ‘Well, the movie is about space aliens. It’s going to do fine foreign.’ It was a big war, and Roland really stood up for [Smith] – and we ultimately won that war.”

As the stalemate continued until time for production, Emmerich even threatened Fox by stating he would take the movie to another studio if he couldn’t cast Smith.

“We still hadn’t locked in Will and Jeff [Goldblum]. I put my foot down,” Emmerich recalled.

Of course, the studio’s unfounded fears were unjustified. Independence Day grossed more than $800 million worldwide.

Furthermore, ID4 became like a rocket launcher to Smith’s career. He went on to take the starring role in a blizzard of $100 million blockbuster movies, including Men In Black I and II, Bad Boys I, II and III, Hitch, Hancock, I am Legend, Pursuit of Happyness, and Ali. 

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