Dr. Bennet Omalu, the real-life subject of “Concussion,” praised Will Smith as he presented the actor with Variety‘s Creative Impact Award on Sunday at a brunch at the Palm Springs Film Festival.
Smith was so convincing in the role that Omalu’s 80-year-old mother was fooled into thinking it was the doctor on screen, Omalu said. “He stole my soul from me. I came away from the film thinking Will Smith was me.”
Smith visited Omalu’s home in Nigeria and several touches in the film, including a picture of his father, came from the visit. Explore the heart and soul of what drives some of the top creative minds in fashion, beauty, and style on their roads to success.
“There is a holiness to truth,” Omalu said. “In stepping up he enlightened all of us.”
While accepting his award, Smith said, “I am a football dad. So when I got that screenplay, I was concerned.” But, “Omalu just wanted to tell the truth and what we do is deliver the truth,” he went on.
Smith pointed out that he has played other real-life figures like Muhammad Ali. And while it’s great to be able to call the subject and ask questions from the set, Smith spoke of the other side of the coin: his point-of-view while Omalu watched his performance.
“You have to sit behind Dr. Omalu. For 45 minutes, nothing, then he turns around and,” Smith flashed a thumbs up to mimic the doctor’s approval.
Baseball may still be billed as the national pastime, but football actually surpassed it in popularity a long time ago. So for anyone born and raised in the United States, challenging the NFL is just unthinkable.
Dr. Bennet Omalu wasn’t born and raised in this country, however. Had he been, it’s doubtful that the forensic neuropathologist from Nigeria would have discovered CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative disease associated with repeated brain trauma that doesn’t show symptoms, and its connection to the NFL. He would never have felt the wrath of the NFL, either, and we wouldn’t have Concussion, which marks Will Smith’s finest performance to date.
The Root caught up with the good doctor for a one-on-one discussion about the film, his faith, his wife’s support and his status with the NFL.
The Root: When you turned down this road, did you have any idea of the magnitude of your actions?
Bennet Omalu: Remember, I grew up in Africa. Growing up as a child, I perceived America to be heaven on earth, a country that was closest to what God wants us to be as his sons and daughters. And I came from Nigeria, which is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. So when I came here, I had the study of Mike Webster and other retired football players, and I wondered: If they played this game where they had to wear a helmet, could it be they were damaging their brains without knowing it?
And so I did the autopsy on Mike Webster. I identified the disease and I most gladly took it to the NFL, believing that I had discovered something that would enhance the game. But then I got this pushback, and I discovered there was this systematic and systemic cover-up to conceal the truth. So that reawakened my faith in me, my faith in the truth.
God is the truth. The American experience and the American experiment are founded on the truth. Science was founded on the truth. My faith is founded on the truth. So you have a convergence of both science and America, my faith, coming together to this common objective or common exploit of the truth.
So it was my search for the truth, to become part of that American family, to contribute my part to a society and a country that has given me so much. Because, as the greater American family, we are one love, we are one spirit, we are one hope, we are one joy. So that was what kept me going. Because when you seek the truth, truth shall set you free.
The truth is liberating. Isn’t that what America is all about? One person at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time, we shall continue to build a greater family, if only we would start by the truth. That is what kept me going.
Sony Pictures Entertainment is offering NFL players and their families free admission at Cinemark Theaters to Will Smith’s “Concussion,” which opens on Christmas Day.
The studio said it has already reached out to current and former NFL players by holding private screenings in each team’s city in advance of its opening.
“This is a movie for the players, so we wanted to give them a chance to see it before its nationwide release and free admission during its run in theaters,” producers Ridley Scott and Giannina Scott said. “The movie is so inspiring. Will Smith gives one of the best performances of his career as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a man who shined a light on the truth.”
Players will receive complimentary admission for themselves and one guest by presenting their NFLPA membership card at any Cinemark theater. Cinemark has almost 500 theaters with about 4,500 screens in the U.S.
Omalu is a forensic pathologist who fought against the NFL’s efforts to suppress his research on the brain damage suffered by professional football players. The film was directed and written by Peter Landesman, based on Jeanne Marie Laskas’ 2009 GQ article “Game Brain.”
“Concussion” also stars Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Albert Brooks. It’s a Columbia Pictures presentation in association with LStar Capital and Village Roadshow Pictures.
The trailer for Will Smith’s new film about the discovery of the NFL’s concussion controversy has arrived merely a few weeks before the league’s fall season is set to begin.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated-affiliated site Monday Morning Quarterbackreleased the first look atConcussion Monday morning. Directed by Peter Landesman, the film will focus on Nigerian neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu(played by Smith), who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Dr. Omalu found the disease, also known as CTE, after working on the autopsy of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. CTE is the progressive degenerative brain disease that athletes can acquire thanks to repetitive head trauma on the field.
The book and documentary, League of Denial, already told Omalu’s story and the battle he faced in bringing CTE to the NFL’s attention. But Landesman says the film will dive into more of the story, and explore the doctor’s determination in pushing the condition to the forefront of the sports world. He also noted that the project isn’t anti-NFL.
“It’s the dynamic of, ‘Respect the person or respect the truth,’” he said. “Bennett has a savant-like relationship to the dead. His obsession is to tell the story of death. As he says in the movie, I think more about the way people die and reasons they die than the way they live. He was completely focused on the science. He didn’t know football, he didn’t know who Mike Webster was; to him, Webster was just another body on a slab. He didn’t have a reverence for the game because he wasn’t brought up in this country. So in some ways, his purity and his innocence was a requirement for him to drill down into this and tell us a very uncomfortable and inconvenient truth.”
Concussion will be released in theaters on Christmas Day. Check out the trailer below:
Will Smith is ready to tackle the NFL’s concussion problem having attached himself to star in the untitled drama based on the GQ article “Game Brain” for Scott Free and Sony. Peter Landesman (“Parkland”) is on board to write and direct.
The article was written by Jeanne Marie Laskas and follows Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Smith, the forensic neuropathologist who single-handedly made the first discovery of CTE in a professional football player and brought awareness to the public. The story is described as a whistle-blower tale in the vein of “The Insider” humanizing the price paid by professional athletes in impact sports — and the political, cultural and corporate interests that fuel the business of professional sports.
The untitled feature is one of a handful of Hollywood projects revolving around the concussion problem in the NFL taking shape in the industry. Parkes/MacDonald Productions are developing a project based on the book “League Of Denial: The NFL, Concussions And The Battle For Truth” and Isaiah Washington is set to star in the indie drama “Game Time Decision,” both of which focus on the concussion issue.
Smith can be seen next in the Warner Bros. movie “Focus” opposite Margot Robbie.