On the 25th anniversary of Independence Day releasing in America, director Roland Emmerich recalls how Will Smith was almost rejected based on the colour of his skin.
Released June 4, 1996 - the same day as actual Independence Day - the Will Smith starring alien epic featured the previously comedic actor in a leading role. Smith played a charismatic air force pilot who helps lead the fight against an aggressive invading alien force.
The movie was a huge success. It had an estimated budget of $75 million and grossed £306 million in the USA alone. It also helped launch Smith’s career. The actor went on to star in Men In Black one year later in a leading role.
According to Emmerich though, Smith almost lost out on the role based on the actor's race.
A number of cast members and Emmerich recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the movie. The film's director discussed the studio’s doubts over Will Smith. Emmerich recalls that “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]. You cast a Black guy in this part, you’re going to kill foreign [box office],” added Emmerich. Writer Dean Devlin stated that Emmerich really stood his ground, even threatening to take the movie to a different studio.
Ultimately the director’s decision was withheld and the movie went on to be the huge success it was. It's success was partly due to Will Smith’s excellent performance as the lead character. It seems easy to throw away such a judgemental casting decision as a sign of the times, but it’s an issue that continues to this day
Disney in particular is well known for its whitewashing in overseas territories, especially in films that feature predominantly black characters.