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CINEMA

Will Smith: “Hollywood is my family, but we have a problem…”

The star defends his decision not to attend this year’s Oscars on a visit to EL PAÍS

Video: Will Smith interviewed at EL PAÍS (English with Spanish captions).

If yesterday was Wednesday, that must have been Madrid. Will Smith is going wherever the promotional trail for his new movie Concussion takes him. On Thursday, for example, the star was due in London. But one place he won’t be visiting in the coming weeks is the Oscars ceremony on February 28. “Hollywood is my family and for my family it is the most important thing there is. But we have a problem…”

That problem, of course, is not the fact that he has not been nominated this time round, but the fact that, for the second year running, not a single black performer features among the acting nominees, despite the likes of Smith, Idris Elba and Samuel L. Jackson all turning in fine performances.

“I applaud the Academy’s rapid response and its proposals, but it is a process that can’t be considered closed, because life changes from day to day”

During a press conference on Wednesday morning, Smith suggested some of the steps that need to be taken to fix the bad relationship between the Academy and ethnic minorities. “I’m not going against them […], nevertheless we have a problem, and it needs to be resolved internally,” he said. “I don’t feel hurt, not in a personal sense, and not because I think they have taken something away from me I deserve. For me, it goes much further. We cannot allow this diversity and the beautiful differences that American harbors, its richness, to escape from us, and Hollywood has the responsibility to reflect it and to be a leader in creating diverse content. Because diversity is our tool and our power.”

His wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, was one of the first to raise her voice against the Academy, which on Saturday announced a series of changes to bring new voices into an institution where 94% of its members are white, 77% are male and the average age is 62.

For Smith, the problem forms part of something deeper, which likely connects to the background of his new movie, Concussion. Released in Spain on February 12, the film tells the true story of the Pittsburgh-based Nigerian forensic pathologist who took on the US National Football League after discovering that the repeated blows to the head received by players were causing – and continue to cause – brain damage in one in every four professionals.

Video: The trailer for Smith's new film, ‘Concussion.’

“I think it is very important to convey this to my kids: you have to be genuine, above all with yourself. Normally the world is not going to want you to be you, and will sometimes punish you for being who you are. I stress this a lot at home, I tell my family that they don’t have to apologize and that they should feel comfortable with themselves, but that they should also know that they have to be ready to deal with the consequences.”

Smith went further on his visit to EL PAÍS’s Madrid offices on Wednesday afternoon, backing the statements made by Directors Guild of America President Paris Barclay that the changes announced by Academy head Cheryl Boone Isaacs were insufficient. Both Barclay and Boone are African Americans.

“Anything in life is in perpetual change. You can’t stay quiet because the universe is transforming. Hollywood’s growth and creation process has to relate to the beauty of American diversity, which is constantly growing and growing. I applaud the Academy’s rapid response and its proposals, but it is a process that can’t be considered closed, because life changes from day to day. I am talking about a world, that of cinema, that ought to settle its decisions in the creative realm, so I don’t believe in a quota system, but rather in a collective openness and in wanting to share and to know about others.”

“I think there was one in Ali where I had to film 67 takes. Normally, I get it before 50”

Smith received all manner of praise and greetings on his EL PAÍS visit: for his career; for the mark that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the sitcom that catapulted him to fame, left on the Spanish collective imagination; not to mention his perfect complexion.

In his online chat with readers he also talked about the most difficult scene of his career. “I think there was one in Ali, in Mozambique, where I had to film 67 takes. It was the one I most had to repeat. Normally, I get it before 50.”

About his current career, the now 47-year-old star said: “I have always liked comedy, but as I become older, and I see myself gravitating towards drama. I Am Legend is the closest I have come to making a film that was a wonderful drama and at the same time a summer box-office hit.”

English version by Nick Funnell.