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10 Times Will Smith Has Inspired Us

Zhou Junxiang / Imaginechina via AP file

Will Smith is a game-changer in Black Hollywood, having been one of very few Black entertainers to have massive success in music, movies and television. Smith is also one of a small group of Black actors to have received multiple Academy Award nominations and most recently for his work in King Richard. So what makes Will so great and inspirational? According to Will, “Greatness is not this wonderful, esoteric, elusive, god-like feature that only the special among us will ever taste, it’s something that truly exists in all of us.” As we look forward to seeing Will hopefully take home the “Best Actor” trophy at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, let’s take a look at moments from his thirty-plus-year career that have inspired the world.

Getting the Gold From the Beginning

Just three years after arriving in the public eye as one half of the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Will Smith was awarded his first Grammy. Smith then known as The Fresh Prince, achieved the honor alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff of being the first rappers to receive a Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1989. Will was barely into his twenties when he received the honor. Prior to Smith and Jazzy Jeff’s win, rap was not publicly viewed as an award-worthy genre of music, even so, the Grammy’s refused to televise the duo’s win during the live telecast. Smith subsequently protested, in an effort to allow for future recipients of the award to be televised as they received the honor. In the 32 years since receiving the award, other rappers including Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West would follow in Smith’s footsteps in receiving the award. Also following Smith and other rap artists of that time’s public stance against the rap performance award not being televised, the Grammys has shown the award and winners during the television broadcast.

The Fresh Prince Takes Over Television

By the age of 23, Smith had moved into television as the star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air sitcom. The sitcom, which starred Smith in the leading role, depicted a young Black man from a gritty urban environment trying to adjust to new surroundings and a new life amongst the Black upper class. “At 23, I was naive, ambitious and aggressive. And there is a power to naivete. That's a power that I'm actually trying to get back in my life right now,” Smith said in a 2019 interview while reflecting back on the time period. One individual who was inspired by Smith’s work and performance is Morgan Cooper, who would go on to re-imagine the series and make it his own to present modern audiences. Cooper’s vision caught Smith’s attention, and Peacock’s drama series Bel-Air was born.

Always Been an A-list Star

Will once said, “In my mind, I’ve always been an A-list star, ya’ll just didn’t know it yet.” With the release of the sci-fi action movie Independence Day in 1996, the world knew Will was an A-list star. While Will fought to save the world from alien invaders in the film, he also became one of the highest-paid actors, Black or white, in Hollywood as a result of the film’s success. At the time of its release, Independence Day was the second highest-grossing film of all time.

Returning to Music As a Solo Artist

With two Grammys under his belt, Will showed that he could win more gold as a solo artist garnering two Grammys for two songs; Men in Black in 1998 and Gettin Jiggy Wit It in 1999.

Will Becomes Muhammed Ali, Oscars Take Notice

As the new millennium rolled in, Will shifted lanes within his acting career taking on dramatic roles in which he embodied boxing legend Muhammed Ali in the 2001 biopic Ali. Will received his first of three “Best Actor” Academy Award nominations for his portrayal of Ali. While Will had been dominating box offices for six years prior, his role as Ali was the first time the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences took notice.

Second Chances

Five years after Ali, Will inspired fathers to push through whatever struggles they faced for their children even when deprived of financial resources, in his role as Chris Gardner in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness.

“If You Aren’t Making Someone Else’s Life Better, Then You’re Wasting Your Time.”

Outside of his film, music, and television work, Will Smith has been involved in giving back. In 1996, Will and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith established the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation. “I want to do good. I want the world to be better because I was here. I want my life, I want my work, my family, I want it to mean something. It’s like if you are not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better,” Will said about the purpose of the organization. The foundation has committed to raising funds for racial justice and organizations providing Covid-19 relief.

The Inspirational Father Figure

In helping to control and bring to light narratives within the Black culture that may have been ignored by mainstream production companies, Will and Jada established Westbrook Inc. The production company’s first feature film release was King Richard, in which Smith plays Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Venus Williams and Serena Williams. His portrayal of Richard garnered him multiple Academy Award nominations including Best Actor (Will’s third nomination) and Best Picture. Another inspiring fact is Will gave his co-stars bonus income for their work on the film in light of the film’s potential revenue loss from being released simultaneously in theaters and on HBOMax.

Feel Better, Be Better

After wrapping King Richard, Will shared with the world his struggle with weight loss, an issue many face, and showed his journey through his Youtube Originals docuseries Best Shape of My Life. “This is the body that carried me through an entire pandemic and countless days grazing through the pantry,” Smith wrote on Instagram. “I love this body, but I wanna FEEL better. No more midnight muffins…this is it! Imma get in the best shape of my life!” Will added.

Believe in Your Plan A

As last year drew to an end, prior to Will’s nominations for King Richard, he released his anticipated memoir Will, which dropped numerous gems of wisdom and reflection to inspire and landed atop the New York Times Bestsellers list.

“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is the product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Now do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice,” Will said in his film After Earth. Will has shown time and time again he has conquered whatever fears he may have allowing him to serve as a source of inspiration to the modern generation and future generations.


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