Will Smith faced backlash from Twitter after it was reported the actor would portray Venus and Serena Williams’ father, Richard Williams, in the film King Richard, reports The New York Post.
The biopic originated from a script that was a runner-up on 2018’s Black List, an annual survey of the “most liked” motion picture screenplays that are not produced.
According to Deadline, Williams overcame having no tennis background along with “tremendous hardship, skepticism and his own troubled past to raise two of the game’s greatest players.” He devised a 78-page plan for his daughters’ tennis careers when they were around 4-years-old. Williams gave the girls tennis lessons on the unkempt Compton public courts, and reportedly brawled with young toughs who tried to make trouble for them.
The Williams sisters have grown to become two of the greatest female players in tennis history. Serena has won 23 Grand Slam tournaments and Venus Williams has won seven Grand Slam titles.
Despite the feel-good story, the announcement of the film garnered a wave of criticism from users on Twitter who felt that Smith, who has lighter skin than Williams, was not the right actor for the role.
Sports writer Clarence Hill Jr. wrote, “Colorism matters…love will Smith but there are other black actors for this role.”
Colorism is discrimination based on skin color, traditionally with a bias towards lighter skin tones. Hollywood has been criticized for enabling this form of discrimination before.
George M. Johnson stated, “Skin color matters in how folk were treated and navigated spaces.”
Some commenters associated the incident to actress Zoe Saldana having to wear “blackface” makeup to play jazz musician Nina Simone in the film Nina.
Others lamented that the popular actor snagged a role that could have gone to more sensible choices like Idris Elba, Mahershala Ali, and Don Cheadle.
There were plenty of people mocking the news on the social media platform as well.
“The permanently offended snowflakes of our generation get out the Color Swatch to complain Will Smith isn’t dark enough to play Richard Williams. GTF over yourselves,” said one user.
Another person tweeted, “Does that really matter? Is Will Smith not ‘black enough’ all of a sudden?”
Someone else wrote, “For the love of all that is holy, where will it end? WILL SMITH IS NOW THE WRONG SHADE OF BLACK.”
This controversy follows a more trivial uproar that developed after fans got their first look at Smith as the Genie in Disney’s new live-action version of Aladdin. Among other things (too skinny, manbun) the biggest offense was Smith wasn’t blue, like his animated counterpart. The Oscar-nominated actor eventually assured fans that he would be blue in the official film. He talked to Entertainment Weekly about the pressure of taking on such an unforgettable role.
“Whenever you’re doing things that are iconic, it’s always terrifying. The question is always: Where was there meat left on the bone? Robin didn’t leave a lot of meat on the bone with the character. … started to feel confident that I could deliver something that was an homage to Robin Williams but was musically different. Just the flavor of the character would be different enough and unique enough that it would be in a different lane, versus trying to compete.”