ByJerome Maida, writer at
Jerome Maida

The casting of Will Smith as Deadshot in the upcoming "Suicide Squad" movie is loaded with controversy and irony for several reasons.

First, it has been a few short years since Smith turned down the chance to play the titular character in "Django Unchained" because, he said, he wouldn't be "the lead".

So to accept a part in an ensemble in a movie with characters unknown to the general public - save for The Joker and Harley Quinn - is odd.

Also, the move is controversial because many feel everything from Smith's more humorous persona to his skin color make him a poor fit for the character.

But the ironic thing is Smith turned down the chance to become an original, legendary hero 15 years ago -and that refusal likely cost Smith a chance to change Hollywood forever!

Smith turned down an offer to be Neo in "The Matrix" - which remains one of the most groundbreaking films of all time and STILL has effects and action that amazes to this day.

Smith says he turned down the role because, as he said in an interview with "Wired":

You know, The Matrix is a difficult concept to pitch. In the pitch, I just didn't see it. I watched Keanu's performance - and very rarely do I say this - but I would have messed it up. I would have absolutely messed up The Matrix. At that point I wasn't smart enough as an actor to let the movie be. Whereas Keanu was smart enough to just let it be. Let the movie and the director tell the story, and don't try and perform every moment.

Indeed, it is hard to imaging Smith replicating Reeves's stoic performance.

But what if he had?

What if Smith HAD accepted the lead in a film - and it's two sequels - that had in which his character had martial arts scenes that rivaled that of "Kill Bill"; the ability to dodge bullets in cool ways; the ability to fly faster than Superman and have almost godlike telekinetic powers and did it in a film that had non-stop and breathtaking action sequences AND deep, intelligent dialogue?

At the apex of his career - and a year after "Blade" had started the comic-book movie renaissance with $70 million domestically - a "Matrix" with Smith as Neo could have likely been even bigger - and broken barriers.

If we accept that "The Matrix" and it's two subsequent sequels, "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions", would have done at least as well with Smith, then he would have been THE lead in a film that was the 5th-highest-grossing at the domestic box-office in 1999 with $171 million (behind only "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace", $431,088,295; "The Sixth Sense", $293,506,292; "Toy Story 2", $245,852,179 and "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me") and TWO of the top NINE films at the box-office in 2003 - well that would have HAD to have opened up some doors for more black leads in films - especially big blockbusters.

It is worth remembering that Warner Brothers also offered Smith the role of The Man of Steel in 2006's "Superman Returns". Would Smith's success as Neo have made that a slam dunk - especially since playing Neo would have prevented him from participating in the bomb "Wild Wild West", which is a big reason Smith decided NOT to play Clark Kent.

Smith famously told MTV in 2008 : "The script came, and I was like, ‘There is no way I’m playing Superman!’ Because I had already done Jim West [of 'Wild Wild West'], and you can’t be messing up white people’s heroes in Hollywood!”
Laughing, the king of the 4th of July weekend added, “You mess up white people’s heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”

Without the fear of "messing up white people's heroes", could Smith have chosen to play Superman? Or, after Neo - an arguably cooler and even more powerful hero - would Smith have focused on other original projects?

Would Warner Brothers have had such faith in Smith that they would have rebooted "Steel"?

More importantly, with Smith as Neo, "The Matrix" would have been a truly groundbreaking film.

Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss and Hugo Weaving were definitely the four principal characters in the trilogy.. But as important as Fishburne was as Morpheus, the Core Four was still 75% white.

If Smith was the lead, the dynamic changes. The lead, and his mentor would both be black. The main villain would be white.

Most importantly, perhaps, would be that Smith haing Moss as his kick-butt love interest would shatter a quasi-taboo in Hollywood - namely that black leads virtually never have love scenes with female leads/love interests.

The power of seeing Smith's Neo and Moss's Trinity not only being passionate, but literally resurrecting each other after almost certain death due to the power of their love almost certainly would have tosses that barrier in casting to the trash heap of cinematic history.

Maybe even Morgan Freeman would be allowed to kiss a white female lead in a film after that.

Toss in that in addition to the arguably the two most important characters in the trilogy being black, but also Gloria Foster/Mary Alice as The Oracle; Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe and Nona Gaye as Zee as well as others - well, that could have been truly revolutionary in terms of blacks not only getting more leads in action films, but opening producers' minds to being truly color blind in terms of casting for films.

Who knows what would have come after.

Both Reeves and the Wachowski have stayed relatively inactive since "The Matrix" trilogy concluded. It's a safe bet that Smith would not have been.

There are so many possibilities that could have sprung from that. From the long-rumored "Night Thrasher" TV series becoming a reality -because producers would be less fearful a black lead would limit their audience.

Would Tim Story have thought of casting Smith in the "Fantastic Four" sequel as the Black Panther instead of the Silver Surfer if Smith had proven his superhero bona fides and bankability in "The Matrix" trilogy?

Would Paramount, Sony or someone have pushed for the rights to make, say, a Luke Cage film much earlier if Smith's "Matrix" trilogy has been a success? Would Warner Brothers have pushed for a John Stewart "Green Lantern" film a decade earlier than the Ryan Reynolds vehicle?

Would FOX have pushed for a "Storm" film with Halle Berry before giving Hugh Jackman's Logan his solo outing?

So many possibilities - that are tantalizing to think about.

I love Keanu as Neo - but it's fascinating to think what the movie landscape would look like today if Smith had said yes.

What do the rest of you think?


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