Will Smith attaching himself to star in a film that's to be directed by a young, up-and-coming black filmmaker is something that just doesn't happen enough! In fact, it's never happened! Actually, outside of a few episodes of Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, throughout his movie acting career, Will Smith has never worked with a black director - whether up-and-coming, or veteran. Not once!
Does he have to? Depends on who you ask, I suppose. But given his position as one of a small handful of mega-watt stars with power and reach, who, by the way, also happens to be black, as well as the dearth of black filmmakers working consistently within the Hollywood studio system - especially on tent-pole projects - accompanied by the annual onslaught of articles lamenting the industry's lack of diversity, I think it's quite unfortunate that this would've been the very first time in his movie acting career (spanning some 20 years) that he would've been directed by a black filmmaker!
I say "would've been" because, according to Deadline, Big Willie has exited Universal's adaptation of Marcus Sakey's novel Brilliance, which upstart Julius Onah was tapped to direct earlier this year. A matter of timing/scheduling is the reason given. Apparently, production dates have shifted twice, creating some conflict with Smith's schedule.
Noomie Rapace was also previously in talks to join Smith in the film. No word yet on whether she's in or out.
So the hunt is on for another actor to take Smith's place. My understanding is that it's not a role written for a black man, so it's one of those parts that any actor, regardless of skin color, can play. Thus, I wouldn't necessarily expect that Smith will be replaced by another black actor.
Onah, who is on something of a roll himself, was first snagged by J.J. Abrams last year to direct the sci-fi thriller God Particle, from a script that was penned by Oren Uziel, with Abrams supervising. That project, set up at Paramount, is currently in development.
Universal's Brilliance is being penned by David Koepp, with Joe Roth and Palek Patel producing.
The 2013 Edgar Award nominee for Best Paperback Original, Brilliance follows several different people - called "Brilliants" - who possess special abilities: a little girl who is able to read people’s darkest secrets; a man is can sense patterns in the stock market and gets rich; a woman who make herself invisible. As the novel's synopsis continues...
They’re called “Brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind.
Reviews of the novel call it a "breakneck thriller" with "shrewd social commentary;" a "gripping tale of a world fundamentally different and yet horrifyingly similar to our own, where being born gifted can be a terrible curse."
The project is said to have "tent pole potential," which will of course be a great thing for Onah. There aren't exactly a lot of black directors helming tent pole movies. Actually both this new project, and the previously announced God Particle, have tent pole potential, based on their high-concept descriptions.
Long-time readers of this blog, going way back to its early days 4 1/2 years ago, will remember Julius Onah's name on the very first S&A's Black Filmmakers to watch list in mid-2009.
At the time, the Nigerian-born filmmaker was pursuing an MFA in film at NYU's Tisch School, and had been selected as a Dean’s Fellow; His short film, The Boundary, was designated by Amnesty International as one of its “Movies That Matter,“ and was acquired by HBO. Also at the time, he was working on his feature film debut titled, The Girl Is In Trouble (starring Columbus Short), which was executive produced by Spike Lee.
That indie feature traveled the film festival circuit, but has yet to be formally released. Although, clearly, Onah has moved on to bigger things.
By the way, Julius Onah's twin-brother, Anthony Onah, happens to be an award-winning filmmaker to watch as well. We've also featured his work on this site. Both are Afrinolly Short Film Competition winners over the last 2 years.