Fox Didn’t Want Will Smith To Star In Independence Day Because He’s Black
Independence Day is now 25 years old and has become a 90s pop culture totem. The film is regularly quoted on social media, has spawned a tonne of memes, and Bill Pullman’s epic Presidential speech uniting Earth against the alien menace still kicks a whole bunch of ass. While some of the CGI compositing looks a bit rough by modern standards, the destruction sequences still hold up beautifully thanks to excellent use of models and slow-motion photography.
To mark the anniversary The Hollywood Reporter has published an oral history in which the cast and crew look back on the movie and give their perspectives on its creation. For example, we now know that director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin got the idea for giant spaceships appearing in the sky during a press conference for Stargate, that they had to rush to beat Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks to theaters, and that they almost cast Kevin Spacey as President Whitmore.
But some slightly more depressing news comes from Emmerich and Devlin’s push to make Will Smith the star. Smith was already a big deal in 1996 due to Bad Boys and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but Independence Day, propelling him to becoming one of the most bankable actors of the 1990s. But this almost didn’t happen:
EMMERICH “Ethan Hawke was on our list too, but I thought at that time he was too young. It was pretty clear it had to be Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. That was the combo we thought. The studio said, “No, we don’t like Will Smith. He’s unproven. He doesn’t work in international [markets].”
DEVLIN They said, “You cast a Black guy in this part, you’re going to kill foreign box office.” 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.
EMMERICH It was pretty shortly before the shoot and we still hadn’t locked in Will and Jeff. I put my foot down. “Universal people are calling every day, so give me these two actors or I move over there.” I don’t think it would have been a possibility [to actually move studios], but it was a great threat.”
Sadly people assuming that the “international market” won’t go to see movies starring black people hasn’t gone away. For example, when Marvel Studios released Black Panther in China in 2018, USC professor and China specialist Stanley Rosen assured Deadline that it would “not be of interest to Chinese audiences.” That was quickly proved wrong when the movie outperformed expectations and matched the box office of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
So full credit to Emmerich and Devlin for fighting the suits and ensuring that Will Smith took the fight to those city-destroying alien bastards. It wouldn’t have been the same movie without him in the starring role, with his casting also giving Vivica A. Fox a richly deserved blockbuster role.
It’s worth reading the rest of The Hollywood Reporter’s article as it gives a lot of interesting insights into how the movie came together, particularly that Bill Pullman’s speech was thrown together at the last moment and that it ensured that the movie wouldn’t be called Doomsday. We also get word as to an alternative ending in which Randy Quaid’s character flies a crop duster into the alien ship that caused test audiences to laugh, resulting in expensive reshoots to put him in a fighter jet instead.
If you want to revisit Independence Day it’s streaming for HBO Max subscribers and available to rent on the usual VOD platforms.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter
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