The Christmas Day release stars Will Smith as real-life Nigerian researcher Bennet Omalu, who identified chronic head trauma as the root of a degenerative brain disease in pro-football players. Since the trailer (below) broke Monday, internal Sony missives from the lion’s share of leaked documents (published by WikiLeaks in April) have resurfaced, revealing the insecurity among studio heads about how to position “Concussion”‘s portrayal of the NFL.
The New York Times quoted an email written by Sony Pictures marketing president Dwight Caines dated August 2014, “Will is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge… We’ll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.”
Did Sony alter the film to prevent protest from the NFL? According to Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein, the league “has a history of intimidating partners like [Disney-operated] ESPN and PBS who have produced programming deemed unflattering to pro football.”
The studio says no, retaliating this morning in an email from Sony’s senior vice president of media relations: “Today’s NYT article and headline, written by individuals who have not seen the film, contains many misleading inferences. As will become immediately clear to anyone actually seeing the movie, nothing with regard to this important story has been ‘softened’ to placate anyone.”
Sony has a point. The movie isn’t out yet, and the hard-hitting trailer doesn’t exactly evince a sense of league worship. “You are going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week,” one character says to Smith, in a trailer that includes conspicuous mention and logo placement of the NFL. As Wallenstein countered, the Christmas Day opening arrives amid peak NFL playtime, just shy of the playoffs, which would “only amplify the controversy bound to be kicked up the issues the movie will raise.”
So does the release date foreshadow a more, or less, flattering picture? The New York Times article also nods to executive emails that discussed doctoring the script to appeal to the NFL. But the fact is, there is no way of knowing what we’re dealing with until the film opens.