Is Will And Jaden Smith’s ‘After Earth’ Being Sabotaged By Racists?

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This past weekend was a huge movie weekend, with “Now You See Me,” “Fast and Furious 6,”  and “After Earth,” vying to become blockbuster king. On Monday, the numbers rolled in, and critics of “After Earth” seemingly rejoiced at Will Smith and son Jaden‘s “dismal showing” at the box office. “After Earth” came in third, garnering only $27 million, compared with “Fast and Furious 6′s first place landing and $34.54 million profit. But whether you are a professional critic or pedestrian movie-goer alike, was “After Earth’s s0-called weak showing a result of poor acting and plot as some profess, or does Hollywood and some Americans have a problem with a star such as Will having the audacity to think that more than one Black actor can live in the limelight at his or her own choosing?

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By Sunday, several high-profile critics panned “After Earth”:

Slate: “Even with his charismatic dad in his earpiece calling the shots, Jaden can’t turn himself into a movie star by sheer force of Will.

Chicago Sun Times: “As for the plot, I guess recycling remains in vogue centuries from now.”

NY Daily News: “Summer 2013 has its first bomb, and sadly, it’s landed right on Will Smith.”

The Village Voice: “I fear Jaden might face online wrath for his performance here, especially thanks to the numb-tongued Kiwi accent he’s forced to adopt. He’s not bad, especially, but he is a kid asked to do the extraordinary: compel us as he pretends to do ridiculous bullsh–. As Will Smith coldly instructs him to feel, to root in this moment now, to master his own creation, I felt the purest horror I ever have at a Shyamalan film: What if this is what Jaden Smith’s life is actually like?”

But the funny thing is, in the New Jersey theater, where I viewed the movie with a nearly packed house, viewers actually clapped at the end of the movie, suggesting that the film had met their expectations if not exceeded them.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, “After Earth” is a movie that, with a post-human-Earth backdrop, explores “Kitai’s (Jaden) journey in attempting to connect with his father, “Cypher” (Will), while essentially coming in to his own.

Watch a trailer of “After Earth” here:

The film showcases the realistic struggles between many sons and their fathers who often look to validate themselves by making Dad proud. Meanwhile, “Kitai” has to navigate through several obstacles — doubly mental and physical — to survive.

In other words, “After Earth,” even with its supersized and post-apocalyptic environment, proves to be a microcosm of life, with sheer faith, will, and strength getting the protagonist through.

“After Earth” is a positive and inspirational tale of a young teen coming in to his own as a member of his family and society.

It also should be noted that Kitai was able to overcome his struggles, emotions, and insecurities without lewd cursing, unnecessary violence, and explicit sex scenes.

So why the bad reviews?

Here is what some commenters had to say about the film:

Frances Rickrd:

Moviegoers resented the nepotism–hangover from Jaden getting TOP billing in ‘karate kid’–what are the odds????

Jeffery:

Smith the Elder needs to realize that Smith the Younger just doesn’t have the chops to carry a movie. The “Karate Kid” and this film are the movie star equivalent of buying your kid a motorcycle when he hasn’t learned to ride a bicycle yet.

Earthling:

Sorry, but I’m not interested in participating – especially at my own expense – in the crowning of the new prince by his father.

I’m sick to death of being told that some young newcomer on the Hollywood scene is extremely talented, and it’s only a coincidence that they happen to be So-and-So-Big-Hollywood-Star’s son or daughter. (As if there aren’t millions of equally or more talented actors out there spending their lives waiting tables.) In this case, there isn’t even a claim of talent.

Frank:

The kid did alright in the new karate kid. But the trailers really do look like daddy was giving the kid a financial gift… that he doesn’t need.

Adam:

A vanity project cooked up by Will Smith to showcase his young son, an uninspired and derivative plot, M. Knight Shyamalan directing…  what could possibly go wrong?

And if their comments are any indication, all of these readers are yet to see the movie.

But Fred Harris touched on some of my suspicions here:

Did a perception that this is somehow a “Black film” have anything to do with its poor opening? I know that this is a question that Hollywood producers (black and white) must be asking as they prepare for a summer of Black films.

With Carolyn adding:

My daughter and I went to see this movie Friday and we thought it was pretty darn good! I can’t understand why its not doing well and these comments from “critics” sound pretty personal. I don’t see a damn thing wrong with helping your kids make it. You people sound HATEFUL and jealous because these folks work hard and want to make a legacy for their family. On another note I DO think that they did not do enough rounds of interviewing and promoting. They did not WORK that movie properly that’s why it failed in my opinion. $100 mil for marketing they were cheated because I saw minimum promo for it. The acting skills ARE great kick rocks to whoever says it wasn’t they need to pick themselves up and keep it moving! Never give up!

Which brings me to my point: While I think we are all clear that everyone will not agree on everything, especially when it comes to perceived talent or lack thereof, it is widely known that Will Smith is one of the highest-paid actors and — up until “After Earth” — the most-dependable summer blockbuster actor for the last 20 years.

Obviously, son Jaden has a long career ahead of him before he is able to stand toe-to-toe with his father. But here’s what Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman wrote in 2010 of Jaden’s performance in “Karate Kid”:

When a child star is cute and has a few instinctual acting moves, that’s probably enough to get him by. Jaden Smith, who stars in the new remake of The Karate Kid, scores on both counts, but he also has something that’s rare to see in a child actor. He’s got presence

As Dre [Jaden], he gets knocked down by bullies and drawn to the sweet sparkle of a teen violinist, but whomever he shares the screen with, he combines a kid’s directness with an adult’s way of holding himself in check. Though it’s not too varied a performance, Smith, like his father, acts with an emotional ease that’s almost gymnastic.

Gleiberman ended up giving Jaden’s rendition of “Kid” a B.

But Time magazine seemed to literally swoon, regarding Jaden’s performance:

A child actor needs three faces: sweet, sad, sassy. Smith has them all, plus a fey beauty and a poise that’s almost disturbing in its utter command of the screen. Ten or 11 when the film was shot, but looking even younger — not to mention being apparently the only black kid in his school or in China — he is the perfect minnow-out-of-water against the bully sharks. With Will Smith currently out of the movie-star business (he’s made no pictures since Seven Pounds in 2008, and has nothing slated until a Men in Black threequel in 2012), Jaden may have to carry the burden of family celebrity, even as he carries his new film. Expertly.

I won’t bore you with more reviews, but I think something should be said about the fact that, all of a sudden, critics are saying or implying that Jaden can’t act and is making his entire play on his father’s coattails.

Which brings me to my next point.

For the longest, Hollywood has historically crowned one Black male the darling of the times. Whether it was Sidney Poitier or Bill Cosby or Denzel Washington, I know I’m not alone in noticing that there is usually one Black media darling allowed to exist at a time. Obviously, this list extends beyond acting. Just check for Oprah or Michael Jordan. All of these individuals appeared to be given access AT A TIME.

But the idea that we can have SEVERAL or MANY Blacks of note dominating the media at the same time has always been a no-no.

More to the point, how DARE Will Smith think he can anoint his son prince without [Hollywood's] permission?

Why is it OK for the media to praise almost all of Will Smith‘s movies for the past two decades and then — all of a sudden — do an about-face for “After Earth”?

And if you are wondering why I haven’t brought up “The Pursuit of Happyness” just yet, which was given 4 out of 5 stars by IMDB, it’s because Jaden was cute and fuzzy back then — and it was his debut. But the moment it seems that the Smiths are actually on to something, meaning leaving a life-long legacy for their children, now all bets are off.

Now we will call Jaden’s acting with his blockbuster dad an exercise in “vanity,” now we are disgusted with the apparent nepotism that this type of pairing suggests.

Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Ramon Estevez

In this Sept. 23, 2011 file image originally released by AARP, from left, Emilio Estevez, Ramon Estevez, Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen pose at the premiere of Emilio’s film, “The Way,” as part of AARP’s Festival For Grown Ups at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.

But is that how people have viewed Martin Sheen, for example, with his sons Charlie, Emilio, and Ramon? How about when Martin directed “Cadence,” with Charlie featured in the movie? Or what about when Emilio directed and acted in “The Way” with his father.

Watch the trailer for “The Way” here:

Is that nepotism? Is the public disgusted by the obvious favoritism the Sheen family displays toward one another?

I’d bet not.

In fact, I’d bet commenter Frank was right to pinpoint race as a sticking point. So what should we do?

Support the movie.

It’s high time that we stop allowing others to determine when we can be allowed to break through the glass ceiling, and it’s high time that we know that just as Whites in this country have been able to secure futures for their offspring, we can too.

Sound off!

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