I think part of the appealing thing is watching this black dude walk through a largely white world without compromise. I think a lot of folks missed the importance of how Barack Obama ended his victory speech. His subject, Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106-year old black woman who'd voted for him. But instead of simply casting her story as a black woman who'd suffered racial oppression, he talked about cars on the road, and planes in the air, he talked about the dust bowl and the depression, he talked about women's suffrage and he also talked slavery and the bus boycott.
Andre 3000 has this great line in one of his songs where he pretends to have a conversation with a critic of hip-hop who says "I thought hip-hop was only drugs and alcohol" and he responds by telling her hell no, "but yet it's that too." That's the thing about that story--it's not that Obama white-washed Cooper and ignored race, it's that he weaved race into the larger story of her as a human being and an American. She was not just a victim of racial oppression--and yet she was that too.
I see a lot of that in Will when I watch him acting. Dig his style in Hancock or I Robot. Whatever you think of those movies, you can see hip-hop oozing out of dude's pores. I make no brief for black exceptionalism here--this is how identity works. But I think one of the things that's so cool about this generation--the Andre 3000s, the Jay-Z's, the Colson Whitehead, the Junot Diazes--is how we claim our heritage but not to the exclusion of the rest of the world.
I want to be clear--this is about freedom and opportunity, not some special quality of this age. When he was kid, my Dad loved Dostoevsky, Dickens and Dumas. But history called him into Vietnam and then into the Black Panthers. Didn't mean he liked Dickens any less. He'd give Booker T. Washington/Malcolm X lectures on the importance of black business one moment, and then head down to the Charles Theater to see the latest French flick the next. He was always complicated, but the times called for a particular part of him.
Hmm, this was supposed to be how much I like Will Smith. I guess it's about how cool it is to get a little more free.
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