“I've always avoided making films about slavery,” he said. “In the early part of my career … I didn't want to show Black people in that light.”
Adding, “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. And the first time I considered it was 'Django,' but I didn't want to make a slavery film about vengeance.”
Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained starring Jamie Foxx was released in 2012, and Smith first opened up about turning down the role in 2015.
He revealed in a roundtable interview with The Hollywood Reporter that, “It was about the creative direction of the story. To me, it's as perfect a story as you could ever want: a guy that learns how to kill to retrieve his wife that has been taken as a slave. That idea is perfect. And it was just that Quentin and I couldn't see [eye to eye]. I wanted to make the greatest love story that African Americans had ever seen.”
The rapper-turned-actor noted that while he wanted to make the Django movie "badly," he had the desire to make the film into a love story and not a vengeance story.
“I don't believe in violence as the reaction to violence,” he continued.
But one of his next projects, Emancipation, will show him in a different light; Smith has taken on the role to play a runaway slave named Peter. The AppleTV+ film is based on the true story and widely-recognized photo "The Scourged Back." The image is of Peter's back which had been heavily scarred from being whipped; it was published in The Independent in 1863 and then in the Harper's Weekly.
Smith said that he accepted the role because: "this was one that was about love and the power of Black love."
“And that was something that I could rock with. We were going to make a story about how Black love makes us invincible.”
Read Will Smith’s GQ interview here.