Over the Christmas break, Netflix took their first dive into the Hollywood blockbuster business with the release of Bright, a high concept, fantasy-action film directed by David Ayer (Suicide Squad) and starring Will Smith.
See how Twitter reacted to Bright in the BET Breaks video, above.
The film itself has been described as Training Day meets Lord of the Rings, which on paper sounds like it should be a cult hit. That’s probably what Netflix was betting on when they put $90 million — their biggest budget to date — and a ton of marketing behind the film. However, critics quickly made it one of the worst-reviewed film of the year on Rotten Tomatoes and crushed that dream:
“Netflix’s ‘Bright’ Is a $90 Million Steaming Pile of Orc Sh*t” - Daily Beast
“There’s boring, there’s bad, and then there’s Bright, a movie so profoundly awful that Republicans will probably try to pass it into law over Christmas break” - Indiewire
“Congratulations, Netflix! You can make a visually grotesque, dreadfully dull and hopelessly convoluted would-be franchise action movie just as well as the stereotypical Hollywood machine!” - Forbes
Or, did they?
While the reviews of Bright were Ishtar-level abysmal, fans flooded Twitter in the days after the film premiered on the streaming platform and defended it with vigor:
Noticing a trend? The Twitter defense of Bright is centered on two things: love for Will Smith, and a feeling that there’s a conspiracy afoot involving movie studios and film critics to keep Netflix out of the blockbuster game.
We all know critics don’t always reflect an audience’s reaction to a film, but the gap here is remarkable. Also notable is that most of the folks clapping back at the negative reaction to the film are Black. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Bright has dominated the conversation in a way we haven’t seen since a movie do since Get Out.
Like Get Out, Bright addresses race and social inequality in the film’s themes. In the world of Bright, elves are the evil wealthy elites, humans are in the “conservative working class” and Orcs Are The New Black. The city is segregated and each race detests the other races. Unlike Get Out, none of this subtle in Bright. In fact, the film’s treatment of social justice issues was so heavy-handed and clunky, it spawned a bunch of think pieces and even a tweetstorm by Chance the Rapper:
Once again, fans of Bright clapped back and demonstrated that Chance’s criticisms, though in line with critics and making plenty of sense, are missing a larger point: there are a lot of people of color who appreciate their entertainment with a dose of wokeness, no matter how ham-fisted it is, and Will Smith may be one of the only megastars in the world who can deliver those two things together:
Will Smith is the last action hero — the last Black action hero. For many of us, he’s someone we’ve grown up with him. We watched him go from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood while never forgetting his Black supporters. Will has shown up to the BET Awards as frequently as the Oscars (hell, he even hosted the BET Awards with his wife, Jada, in 2005, at the peak of his box office streak). So it makes all the sense that almost the majority of the Bright defenders are Black.
Admittedly, Smith’s choices of roles have been questionable lately. For the past decade or so, he has strayed from the urban populist sentiments that made him the King of Summer for the entire decade prior. He chose more esoteric projects (otherwise known on Twitter as "that weird Scientology shit") that crashed and burned. The films from didn't seem to make any effort to speak to, or market to, Will's ride-or-die urban fans. Even Concussion, a biopic about the Nigerian doctor who blew the whistle on brain damage in NFL players, opted to play it safe in order to reach audiences on both sides of the cultural divide, rather than aligning itself with the burgeoning anti-NFL movement in Black communities.
But fans are still holding out for Will to return to the charismatic, box office smash he was seven years ago. Steve Rose at The Guardian wrote, “We don’t want Sad Will, we want Jiggy-Wit-It Will! We want the confident, cocky, charming, funny Will. We want action-comedy Will.” And to some degree, Will delivers just that in Bright. His character Daryl Ward is all but too reminiscent to his Bad Boys character Mike Lowrey. That is no coincidence. The nostalgia of that character and that time period is enough to make some overlook the near-fatal errors in Bright.
Will wants to get back to his box office, action star glory and many of his fans want to see him do that. Netflix sees the potential and has invested heavily in his career resurgence (a sequel to Bright has already been ordered, making it the streaming giant’s first-ever movie franchise). Smith proved that he is ready to do his part. His development slate reads like a 90s revival (two Bad Boys sequels, as well as sequels to Hancock and The Karate Kid), and he joined Instagram on December 14 and giving his fans direct access to “Jiggy-Wit-It Will” on a daily basis (as further proof of his enduring appeal, note that Smith became an Instagram legend in record time, charming up 3.7 million followers in less than two weeks).
So, while industry insiders and elitist critics watched Bright and started writing Will’s career obituary, they clearly underestimated one huge factor: to this day, he’s very much beloved in the Black community, and it’s our support that keeps giving him a lifeline. Let's just hope he doesn't blow it.
(Photo: Matt Kennedy/Netflix)