Black Affairs, Africa and Development

Will Smith On Race In America: ‘It’s Our Responsibility To Clean Up The Mess’

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Minus cameos in “Anchorman 2” and “Winter’s Tale,” Will Smith hasn’t appeared on screen since 2013’s “After Earth.” But Smith’s return as leading man is set for the end of the month in “Focus,” followed by many other films, including “Concussion,” “Suicide Squad” and, eventually, “Bad Boys 3.”

Sitting down with Esquire, courtside at a 76ers and Grizzlies basketball game, Smith discussed a wide variety of subjects, including the topic of Ferguson and race in America.

The change that has to happen is about to be so brutal and so painful. It’s not unlike the sixties. I think there’s actually a deeper issue at play that America is going to have to face. What we’re really talking about in this issue is people walking around the street with guns that can make a decision whether or not they’re going to kill someone, right? And that’s even more difficult, because there’s really no way back from that. This is a gun culture. And it’s painful for me, because I cannot figure out how to be helpful. I’ve always been telling my sons, We have to separate fault from responsibility—whose fault it is that black men are in this situation, whose fault it is doesn’t matter. It’s our responsibility to make it go right. It’s our responsibility. It’s a lot of people’s fault, systemic racism, and it’s a lot of people’s fault that the black community is in the situation that we’re in, but it’s our responsibility to clean up the mess.

Smith also opened up about 2013’s “After Earth,” which co-stars his son, Jaden (who, according to Smith, owns just five shirts, three pairs of pants and one pair of shoes). The film was a flop domestically, earning only $60 million, and garnering three Razzies. While Smith considers “After Earth” his greatest failure, he went into detail about the devastating news that soon followed that brought about a great revelation in his life:

“Wild Wild West” was less painful than “After Earth” because my son was involved in “After Earth” and I led him into it. That was excruciating. What I learned from that failure is how you win. I got reinvigorated after the failure of “After Earth.” I stopped working for a year and a half. I had to dive into why it was so important for me to have number-one movies. And I never would have looked at myself in that way. I was a guy who, when I was fifteen my girlfriend cheated on me, and I decided that if I was number one, no woman would ever cheat on me. All I have to do is make sure that no one’s ever better than me and I’ll have the love that my heart yearns for. And I never released that and moved into a mature way of looking at the world and my artistry and love until the failure of “After Earth,” when I had to accept that it’s not a good source of creation.

“After Earth” comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective — viciously. And I went right downstairs and got on the treadmill. And I was on the treadmill for about ninety minutes. And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole. You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.

For the whole interview, head to Esquire.

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