While the white (and gold) vs. black (and blue) debate over #TheDress continues to divide and alter life as we know it, another far more insidious color war is raging in America: Racists are outraged over the interracial coupling in the movie Focus between Will Smith, an African-American man, and his Australian co-star Margot Robbie, a white woman.
The onetime Men in Black and Independence Day blockbuster king stars in the R-rated romantic caper as a charismatic con artist who welcomes Robbie’s femme fatale-in-training to his operation and falls for her—against his better judgment. It’s a rare sensual role for Smith, who gets steamy with Robbie in a few sex scenes that are actually conservatively shot and disappointingly brief. But boy does their onscreen love affair have racists’ panties in a bunch.
“Anyone getting fed up with all this race mixing being shoved down our throats?” wrote YouTube user Shomanoman on a trailer page for Focus.
“YUCK, Race-mixing Trash propaganda by Hollyjewed again,” declared Kriegen Gegen Das System, managing to squeeze in a shot at Tinseltown’s Jewish population while they were at it.
Comments like these skyrocketed this month ahead of Focus’s theatrical release, sparking a wave of counter-commenters who jumped to defend Smith and interracial representation in movies.
Contrary to Shomanoman’s claim, rampant “race mixing” is still conspicuously non-existent in Hollywood, where skin tones have to match if love or sex is in the cards for two characters. Just look to Smith’s own filmography: In his two decades as a bona fide leading man, he’s never before gotten down with a white woman onscreen.
When he almost did in the 2005 romantic comedy Hitch opposite would-be co-star Cameron Diaz, she was recast. Eva Mendes got the gig, and Smith blamed Hollywood.
“How are you not going to consider Cameron Diaz? That becomes massive news in the US. Outside America, it's no big deal. But in the US, it's still a racial issue,” Female First UK quoted him saying in 2005. “Ironically, Hollywood is happy to do it if the film is about racism. But they won't simply do it and ignore it."
Even before he was a movie star, Smith addressed the flip side of interracial controversy on the second season of his TV sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. In the 1991 episode “Guess Who’s Coming To Marry?”, Will’s aunt Janice introduces the family to her fiancé, a white man, upsetting Will’s mother so much she refuses to attend the wedding. The family is taken aback but, for the sake of the children, have the decency to temper the way they discuss their initial prejudice (“She didn’t mention he was… tall…”):
Despite that nod to Stanley Kramer’s 1967 landmark examination of interracial marriage in America, Smith didn’t have a single white girlfriend over the course of six seasons of Fresh Prince. When Focus was in its early stages it was to star Kristen Stewart before she bailed, citing the 20-year age difference between her and Smith. That didn’t stop media gossipers from speculating that her exit was race-related.
Smith’s grown-man sexy in Focus may not be as stimulating as it could or should be; for that, blame the abbreviated love scenes on writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and a chemistry with Robbie that’s stronger in off-set photo booth selfies than on the actual screen. At least the tastefully luxe, grown-up affair is a step in the right direction. And that’s a start to making all of the Internet racists’ nightmares finally come true.