In one of his most challenging, Oscar-worthy roles yet, Will Smith portrays a Nigerian coroner in Concussion — a tale of medicine, science and football. The movie follows the life of Bennet Omalu, the doctor responsible for bringing to light one of the most robust medical discoveries in sports history.
The film, which is based on a searing GQ article ‘Game Brain‘ written by Jeanne Marie Laskasby in 2009, took the lid off of the NFL’S dirty laundry.
American Football, a game birthed in the the spirit of rugby, is one of the most popular sports in the nation. And it’s no wonder why. The hard-hitting, fast, jaw dropping intensity of play gives both players and watchers alike an unparalleled adrenaline rush. Placed in circular stadiums filled with 100,000 roaring fans, our football fields are modern day gladiatorial games that pull in $10 billion dollars in revenue.
Now imagine being the brilliant, humble guy that threatens to overthrow it all with your knowledge.
Bennet Omalu, played masterfully by Smith, quickly became football’s Achilles’ heel when he discovered in 2002 that continuous concussional blows, commonplace in the game, result in brain damage that slowly degenerates the mind.
Omalu naively expected the findings to be well received by academia and the NFL, not knowing he was entering into battle with one of the largest and most popular corporations in the nation.
Will Smith takes on the role, exploring the complications of being a spiritually in-tune Igbo doctor in a medical field that normalizes death as another paycheck.
One of the most surprising dimensions of the movie was the light shed on the shared immigrant experience: dreams of American acceptance and success coupled with struggle. It is in this layer that Smith shines.
As a foreign man bringing one of the nation’s most profitable franchises to their knees, Omalu faced relentless public scrutiny of his character and credentials. Smith brings that story to life by accurately depicting a man’s search for validity through his eyes, mannerisms, and gut punching monologues. He represents every person of color who has ever had to battle for credibility in primarily white male dominated fields.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw carries grace of her own as Omalu’s wife Prema Mutiso. She is the subtle feminine strength that is the backbone to her husband’s legacy. As a nurse immigrating from Kenya, she too shares in his struggle for American recognition.
This film not only chronicles the career-defining scientific findings of Omalu, but it also demonstrates the glory of walking fearlessly into purpose despite the opposition of the American capitalist system.
Will Smith brilliantly personifies Omalu while exemplifying the struggle for worthiness we all face when we know we have something game-changing in our hands, yet the world refuses to acknowledge it due to our race, background, or their very own denial of the truth.
Because of his authentic, honest, vulnerable performance, Will Smith deserves the highest recognition from the academy.
Concussion is in theaters December 25th.