Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

Did You Know #1 - What "The Matrix" Could Have Been, Big Willy Style

Did You Know...

Will Smith was the preferred choice to play the role of Neo in the 1999 blockbuster surprise, The Matrix, which went on to birth two par sequels? Apparently, Mr. Smith turned the role down, which was later offered to Keanu Reeves.

I just can't picture Big Willy as Neo - it would've been a slightly different film altogether, as I think his performance would have made it such.

For all his faults as an actor, I think Keanu was actually the better choice for the role. Obviously, my perspective is tainted somewhat because I've seen Keanu thrice already as Neo, so it would indeed be a little difficult to imagine someone else in it, regardless of who that person might be. Keanu's seemingly natural vacuous, deer-caught-in-headlights look, actually turned out to be more of a compliment to the film than a detriment, as Neo's struggle towards self-awareness practically called for that kind of a performer or performance.

Interestingly, Will turned down the role to make Wild Wild West, which ended up a critical and slightly commercial flop.

So, indulge me here for a minute folks... we can only imagine what The Matrix could have been with Will Smith (a black actor) in the lead role, flanked by Laurence Fishburne (also a black actor), and one could assume that Trinity, Neo's love interest, would have been a black woman (maybe). The original Matrix, by the way, was allegedly influenced by a manuscript called The Third Eye, created by a black woman, (Google Sophia Stewart if you have heard nothing of this), although the producers and Warner Brothers, the studio responsible for distributing the film, have done their best to minimize the propagation of this knowledge, as well as the damage that this wonderful piece of news could do to their reputations). So, again, indulge me here... with all that in mind - a starring black cast notably - imagine what The Matrix could have been, or what it could have meant to cinema (specifically black cinema), given just how influential it became. Would it have been as successful? Would we have seen 2 sequels - sequels that introduced even more black characters?

To his credit, Will Smith later stated that, if given the role at that time, he "would have messed it up." I agree :o)


  1. said...

    Who knew? Thanks for sharing this "secret."

    Excellent questions. Hmmmm.

    Yes. It would have been probably as successful if it were marketed as an "action flick."

    If it were marketed as a sci-fi flick, I'm not so sure.

    It would have meant great, great things for black cinema. Great things. It would have represented a departure from the norm.

    I should say, I don't know if the films were well-made or critically acclaimed. I'm assuming they were. I didn't see Part II or III and didn't know what the hell was going in in Part I.

    So, that "departure from the norm" coupled with the fact that they were "good" films or respectable, at least, woulda helped black cinema and woulda opened the doors and the eyes of studio execs and movie goers and shown them we can do something else.

    Maybe this woulda meant that other nontraditional projects would get greenlighted.

    We might see a little less of the "black films don't work overseas" rhetoric.

    Given the success of Part I, yes, there would have been sequels.

    I don't know that people associate sci fi and space sh*t with black people. I know Will Smith has had success in sci fi things. But there were other reasons for that, I think.

  2. Deesha said...

    It's funny...I can see Will smirking his way through the Neo role and messing it up (wait...did he smirk his way through "I am Legend"--I didn't see it?), and yet Keanu "Duh" Reeves somehow managed to not bring the smirk/clown factor. Miracles abound, but when I imagine will in the role, I see him the same as in every other role I've seen him in (except "Six Degrees...")

    By the way, I found the link you were looking for. Look in my comments. :-)


  3. Wendy said...

    Actually, I think Mr Smith may have been a tad too modest, on this occasion.

    I'm not a big fan of most of the kinds of movies he has done, but I am aware that he is an actor who dedicates himself fully to a role.

    Films like Six Degrees of Separation, In Pursuit of Happyness and I Am Legend (which I went to see thinking I'd hate it) are proof that his acting abilities cover a more diverse range than most give him credit for.

    Will Smith CAN do roles that aren't The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in a black suit or a cowboy suit, weilding a gun and saving the planet (OK, the gun and saving the planet kind of feature in I Am Legend...) - he's just chosen to take on more obviously commercial roles.

    And besides, with a mostly black cast, I doubt very much that the Matrix franchise would be anywhere near as big as it is. A black man, seeking the truth, seeking self-realisaton...? It would have been as widely seen in the meanstream as something like The Spook Who Sat by the Door. That the fact that it was written - ahem... I mean, inspired - by a black woman has been so spuriously covered up speaks volumes in itself!

  4. The Obenson Report said...

    @ TBA - I think with a name like Will Smith attached, it probably would have done well... don't know if it would have done as well as it ended up doing, with 2 sequels, and a significant cult following.

    @ Deesha - Keanu "Duh" Reeves? HA!

    @ Wendy - Sure, Mr Smith has proven some acting chops. I just don't know if he could have pulled off the innocence and vulnerability needed for Neo, the way Reeves did without really even trying :o) He often plays the uber-masculine, suave dude. I thought his performance in "6 DEGREES" was ok. I'm not sure why people talk about it like it was some tremendous performance... maybe for Will Smith it was. I think his best performance to date was in "PURSUIT." He's certainly matured quite a bit as an actor.

  5. Deesha said...

    How could I forget about "...Happyness"? I think I gave WS kudos for "Six Degrees..." mostly because it was such a departure for him. With "...Happyness," the kudos are without qualification. :-)


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