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Will Smith’s Casting as Venus and Serena Williams’ Father Sparks Colorism Backlash

Smith is reportedly going to play Venus and Serena Williams' father in a new project.

Will SmithBright - Japan premiere in Tokyo - 19 Dec 2017US actor/cast member Will Smith attends the Japan premiere for the film 'Bright' in Tokyo, Japan, 19 December 2017. The American urban fantasy action crime film will be released globally on Netflix from 22 December.

Will Smith

Christopher Jue/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Will Smith is at the center of controversy following a report from Deadline that says he is attached to play Venus and Serena Williams’ father and tennis coach Richard Williams in an upcoming biopic titled “King Richard.” The spec script for the film written by Zach Baylin reportedly earned a lot of attention and was picked up by Tim White and Trevor White to produce through their Star Thrower Entertainment banner. Smith is also producing through Overbrook Entertainment.

The story of Richard Williams is notable as he had no prior tennis experience before coaching Venus and Serena, inarguably two of the greatest tennis players in history. While telling Williams’ story may be exciting, the reported casting of Smith in the main role has led to backlash and accusations of colorism. Sports writer Clarence Hill Jr. went viral on social media after bringing attention to the casting, writing, “Colorism matters. Love Will Smith but there are other black actors for this role.”

Clarence Hill Jr. was supported by the likes of film writers Valerie Complex (she described the casting as “colorism at work”) and George M. Johnson, who wrote, “Just like Chadwick [Boseman] shouldn’t have played Thurgood Marshall, Will should not play Richard.”

Colorism describes prejudice or discrimination of same-race people based solely on skin color. Many have pointed out the obvious that Smith’s lighter skin tone does not match Richard Williams’s darker skin tone. As Johnson pointed out, Chadwick Boseman faced similar backlash over his casting as Thurgood Marshall. Zoe Saldana’s casting as Nina Simone in the biopic “Nina” was also met with colorism controversy. In that film, darker makeup was applied to Saldana so that her lighter skin tone could match Simone’s.

IndieWire has reached out to Smith’s representatives for further comment.

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