What Has Been the Impact of Will Smith on Pop Culture?

There are hundreds of actors in Hollywood that have truly made a huge impact in pop culture and in the history of cinema. One of those actors is Willard Carroll Smith II, who is known by many people as Will Smith. This great actor, rapper, and producer have been able to star in some of the biggest and most popular films in the past decades, making him one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood.

While many know Will Smith’s well-known works, there are only a few people that know the actor’s early life and what led him to become one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. To know more about this Hollywood star, here are details about the impact of Will Smith on pop culture.

Will Smith’s Early Life

Willard Carroll Smith II was born on September 25, 1968, in the city of Philadelphia in the US State of Pennsylvania. Smith’s father, Willard Carroll Smith Sr., was a US Air Force veteran and refrigeration engineer, while his mother, Caroline Bright, was a school board administrator. 

Will Smith grew up in the Wynnefield neighborhood located in West Philadelphia and attended Our Lady of Lourdes, which is a private elementary school in the city. Besides Will, Willard Sr. and Caroline also have three other children named Pamela (the eldest) and the twins Harry and Ellen, who are younger than Will. Will’s parents separated when he was 13 years old, and the divorce was finalized in 2000.

Smith developed his passion for rapping at the age of 12 when he started to write lyrics in his notebook. His mother would find and read the said notebook, and upon finding several curse words, she wrote in the notebook that intelligent people do not have to use curse words to express themselves. Since then, Will Smith did not use profanity in his songs.

Rise of the Fresh Prince

Will Smith would start his career as a rapper when he worked as an MC for the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, wherein he was “The Fresh Prince” while his childhood friend, Jeffrey Townes, was “DJ Jazzy Jeff” and is the producer and turntablist of the duo. Smith and Townes met by chance in 1985 when Townes was hired as a performer for a house party that was held just a few houses away from Smith’s home. Because Townes was missing a hype man during that time, Smith decided to fill in, and their chemistry was already seen for that first performance.

Smith would continue to use “The Fresh Prince” nickname for a sitcom that was created by several executives of the NBC television network in the 1990s. The sitcom was called “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and was focused on the character of Will Smith (who has the same name as him), who moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. The famous show first aired on September 10, 1990, and ended on May 20, 1996.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air served as Will Smith’s breakthrough project, as it was able to launch his legendary acting career. Along with starring in such a popular TV show, Will Smith also took the time to study the common characteristics of the biggest movie stars in the world and mold his Hollywood persona on those characteristics. This move made him an even bigger star, as he was able to choose his roles and know which ones would be considered a hit at the box office.

Impact of Will Smith on Pop Culture

Will Smith had a huge impact on pop culture, and in the early years of his career, some of the movies that he starred in also became iconic in the realm of pop culture. Smith’s first project, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, popularized hip-hop and made Black television mainstream. After the airing of the show, there have been other shows that have been inspired by Will Smith’s character and story. 

In addition to hip-hop, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air also made colorful outfits quite popular again after the trend had been on the decline in the late 1980s. The Air Jordan 5, which was released in 1990, the year that the show premiered, also became quite popular because Will Smith was seen wearing it (particularly the “Grape” colorway) on various episodes.

Another project of Will Smith called Bad Boys, a film released in 1995 and co-starred Martin Lawrence, also had a great impact on pop culture, especially in helping to increase the prominence of Black identity in Hollywood. Because of the popularity of Bad Boys, it was able to spawn two sequels, namely Bad Boys II in 2003 and Bad Boys for Life in 2020.

One of the biggest box-office hits in Will Smith’s career is Independence Day, which was released in 1996 and grossed over $817 million against a $75 million budget. Thanks to Independence Day, the sci-fi and the disaster film genres experienced a resurgence in the late 1990s and early 2000s

As proof of the resurgence or revival of the sci-fi genre, Will Smith also starred in another sci-fi film called Men in Black in 1997. Men in Black also became quite popular, and it was able to have three sequels, namely Men in Black 2 in 2002, Men in Black 3 in 2012, and Men in Black: International in 2019.

Will Smith’s First Oscar Win and Slapping Incident

Oscar Award

Despite the illustrious career of Will Smith, he has never won an Academy Award for Best Actor from 1990 to 2021. However, Smith was nominated for Best Actor for two films, namely Ali in 2002 and The Pursuit of Happyness in 2007. But, in 2022, Will Smith was able to win his first-ever Academy Award for Best Actor for the film titled King Richard, where he played Richard Williams, the father and coach of famous tennis players Serena and Venus Williams.

Unfortunately, his first Academy Award win was marred with controversy because, in the awarding ceremony of the 94th Academy Awards in March 2022, Will Smith unexpectedly slapped comedian Chris Rock in the face after the latter made a short joke about Smith’s wife. 

Minutes after the incident, Will Smith was then given the Academy Award for Best Actor, and in his infamous speech, he did not apologize to Chris Rock. However, Smith did apologize to Chris Rock on an Instagram post that he posted a few days after the incident. It is still unclear if the slapping incident greatly affected Will Smith’s career, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (also known as AMPAS) has decided to ban Smith from any Oscar or Academy events in the next ten years. After the banning, Will Smith responded by saying that he respects the Academy’s decision.