Along with Denzel Washington, Will Smith is one of the most famous movie cops in Hollywood thanks to his blockbuster Bad Boys franchise. In a wide-ranging new interview with GQ, the star of the upcoming Oscar hopeful King Richard touches on the complicated subject of real-world policing. Specifically, Smith addresses the "Defund the police" movement that gained traction after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May 2020, four months after the third Bad Boys installment, Bad Boys for Life, racked up $200 million at the U.S. box office. And much like Washington — who recently told Yahoo Entertainment that he has the "utmost respect" for real-life cops — Smith sounds a more cautious note about the movement's goals.
"I would love if we would just say 'Defund the bad police,'" he remarks, likening it to the conflicting messaging over critical race theory. "It’s almost like I want, as Black Americans, for us to change our marketing for the new position we’re in. So 'critical race theory,' just call it 'truth theory.' The pendulum is swinging in our direction beautifully."
"This is a difficult area to discuss, but I feel like the simplicity of Black Lives Matter was perfect," Smith continues. "Anybody who tries to debate Black Lives Matter looks ridiculous. So when I talk about the marketing of our ideas, Black Lives Matter was perfection. From a standpoint of getting it done, Black Lives Matter gets it done. 'Defund the police' doesn’t get it done, no matter how good the ideas are. I’m not saying we shouldn't defund the police. I’m saying, just don’t say that, because then people who would help you won’t."
Amid the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Smith spoke up about his own interactions with police officers as a young man in Philadelphia, indicating that he was called the "N" word on multiple occasions. "I got stopped frequently," he remarked on the podcast, On 1 With Angela Rye. "So I understand what it's like to be in those circumstances with the police."
Speaking with GQ, Smith explains that for much of his career he placed being an entertainer over being a spokesperson for any particular cause. "In the early part of my career….I wanted to be a superhero. So I wanted to depict Black excellence alongside my white counterparts. I wanted to play roles that you would give to Tom Cruise." Now that he's in his so-called "f***-it 50s," though, he's ready to incorporate politics into his art. That includes his upcoming Apple TV+ movie, Emancipation, which is based on the true story of "Whipped Peter," an escaped slave and subject of a famous 19th century photo that captured the horrors of slavery in a single image.
Previously, Smith says he deliberately "avoided" appearing in movies about slavery — including Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, where he was offered the title role that eventually went to Jamie Foxx — but feels that Emancipation offers something different. "This was one that was about love and the power of Black love," Smith says of the Antoine Fuqua directed movie. "And that was something that I could rock with. We were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible."
Speaking of love, Smith's GQ interview also touches on the rumors surrounding his marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith, which is addressed in the actor's upcoming memoir, Will, due in bookstores in November. "Jada never believed in conventional marriage," the actor says, tacitly confirming that he and Pinkett Smith have a non-traditional union. "We have given each other trust and freedom, with the belief that everybody has to find their own way. And marriage for us can’t be a prison. And I don’t suggest our road for anybody. But the experiences that the freedoms that we’ve given one another and the unconditional support, to me, is the highest definition of love."
King Richard premieres Nov. 19 in theaters and on HBO Max