One of the most interesting things about Will Smith’s new movie, Pursuit of Happyness, is how colorblind it is. The film is the true story of Chris Gardner, a black man who becomes homeless while working at an unpaid stock broker internship with and under a bunch of white people – the internship is obviously aimed at people who already have means to live without income, and the racial makeup of that group is, to me, telling.
Will Smith doesn’t think so. While doing press for the film, he downplayed race as a factor in the film, and in general. He said to Coming Soon:
There’s a movie called "What the BLEEP," I don’t know if you’re familiar with it. There’s an idea that’s almost a quantum physics idea that Chris and I both connect to that something is only there if you acknowledge it’s there. Something only has power over you if you acknowledge that it has power over you. Chris specifically said that sure, he knows he was in America, he knows that there was probably racism, but he never paid attention to any of that. He found good people, he connected to good people. He felt that if he allowed himself to say that there’s racism and somebody’s trying to keep me down because I’m black that it actually weakens him in acknowledging the obstacle.
But does Chris Gardner really feel that way? Movie City Indie has uncovered a video clip from 2000 where Gardner is being interviewed about taxi cabs. At this point Gardner is a very rich man – he says he takes taxis to work because he doesn’t want to drive his sports car in daily traffic – but he still can’t seem to bet a cab to stop for him. In fact, he says it’s such a hassle that he’s thinking about getting a driver. Gardner says there’s one reason why a cabbie would rather have no fare than pick him up – they think of him as a nigger. That’s a direct quote, by the way, and not the words of a man who ignores racism but is all too aware of its daily impact on his life.
Watch the video clip here. Gardner’s anger is palpable, and I have to tell you that I wish Smith had brought a little more of that to his performance in the movie. Will Smith has probably not had a lot of moments in the last few decades where he’s been standing on the side of the street, trying to get a cab. Maybe if he had that would have changed his answer to Coming Soon – racism is probably easier for the world’s biggest movie star to ignore than it is for a guy who just can’t hail a cab. And maybe Pursuit of Happyness would have acknowledged that Chris’ skin color played a role in his story.