Bright: Why Will Smith turned to Netflix for his latest, and how that ties in with his India visit

Devansh Sharma

Dec,23 2017 13:21:17 IST

Earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, Will Smith argued in favour of Netflix originals in a war of words with the jury chief Pedro Almodovar. He reasoned that Netflix brings a great connectivity, and thus, should not be dissed completely merely because it eats into the market of cinema halls.

Earlier this week, Netflix released his fantasy buddy cop film, David Ayer's Bright. But Smith vouching for Netflix's relevance goes beyond his commercial interests. Given that he is a global star, his film would have easily got a wide release.

(From left) Will Smith, Noomi Rapace, Joel Edgerton, David Ayer. Image courtesy: Netflix India

(From left) Will Smith, Noomi Rapace, Joel Edgerton, David Ayer. Image courtesy: Netflix India

In spite of this, he chose to experiment with a Netflix-only release. The fact that Bright is an 'event film' makes his choice all the more fascinating. Since India is intrinsically big on event films and big budget wholesome entertainers, there is no doubt that it is a great market for Bright. But the Netflix-only release risks its moneymaking chances and may come across as self-defeating.

In fact, Smith agrees that he may be at the risk of compromising the overwhelming impact of the big screen. "Before Independence Day, everyone used to call me Will. But after they saw it in the theatres, I was called Mr Smith for the first time. That's what the big screen does to you," said Smith, during his India visit to promote Bright.

Then why would Mr Smith deprive himself a chance of being called so? The answer can be traced back to his argument in favour of Netflix at Cannes. "They (audience) get to see films they absolutely wouldn't have seen.There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles of them. They get to find those artists," Smith had said.

His decision to opt for a Netflix-only release of Bright goes beyond accessibility as well. It extends to the very theme of the film. Bright, besides being a fantasy film-meets-buddy cop drama, offers a social commentary. Its narrative addresses the issue of racism, which is extremely relevant in contemporary America.

For the message of the film to permeate the entire globe, Bright needed an omnipresent platform, more than a large distribution network. It could not afford to not release in any country as that would have compromised the idea it aims to disseminate. Thus, it roped in Netflix which ensured the film gets released in a whopping 190 countries, making Bright the largest Netflix original release yet.

But the film's design suggested that it may have 'brighter' prospects in one country out of the 190. That is why both Smith and Netflix chose India as one of the few handpicked countries for the promotional tour in the same week that Bright releases on the streaming service.

As the narrative of the film follows, Smith plays a cop, a representative of the human race, torn between two races. While elves represent the haves, the orcs represent the have nots. The humans land somewhere in the middle of this socioeconomic hierarchy, just like India in the contemporary world.

Particularly after Donald Trump's election as US President, India has found itself in the position of mediator — between the East and the West. Given its diversity and strategic position, the country finds itself oscillating between both ends. It discriminates and is discriminated against. It is the oppressed and the oppressor.

Smith had an interesting perspective to share on discrimination since he also found himself playing a similar part in Bright. He is an African American officer who often succumbs to racism against his buddy cop, an orc, played by Joel Edgerton.

"Everybody wants to feel like they're better than somebody. That's what our ego does. And whether it's racism or sexism or nationalism, it really is just a quest for our individual and collective egos to feel like we're good enough. And it's just that we feel like we're good enough by being better than someone else. So, I never comprehended that before playing this character," said Smith to Firstpost.

With Netflix, which is expanding its base and content in India, Smith has ensured that his film hits the right spot. It was an Indian producer in Ronnie Screwvala who said this about Smith to Variety during his maiden visit to India. “Will is one of the biggest brands worldwide and not just in Hollywood. He was an Obama long before the Obama wave."

By choosing Netflix, Smith looks to bring this Obama wave back to India, and 189 other countries. Well done, 'Mr Smith'.

Published Date: Dec 23, 2017 13:21 PM | Updated Date: Dec 23, 2017 13:36 PM