Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Will Smith and the Will to Succeed


As the summer reaches peak heat and humidity, my overheated brain turned to the interaction of Will and will. Will Smith’s greatest artistic work was about the will to succeed. It blew apart the dominant cultural narratives, of black men as economic losers, and of American capitalism as a rigged system. At the same time, Will did not sugarcoat reality, faithfully conveying Chris Gardner’s autobiographical story about the pursuit of happiness.

Will Smith leveraged a middle-class safe-rapper persona into the starring role in a situation comedy, from which he launched into Hollywood stardom. In the late 1980s, he performed as The Fresh Prince with DJ Jazzy Jeff, achieving enough success to attract the attention of television studios. “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was a play on the old Beverly Hillbillies, updated with a streetwise kid from Philadelphia being sent to live with relatives in Bel Air.

Six seasons of television success postured Smith for comedy roles on the big screen and he became a money-making machine. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, his movies have generated:

Adjusted Total: $4,917,025,000
Average: $196,681,000

Along the way, he also managed to flex into deadly serious roles. The 2006 film Pursuit of Happyness, in which he acted with his young son, stands out among his serious roles, including Ali and Concussion. The title comes from the Declaration of Independence, while the spelling comes from a sign Chris Gardner saw while homeless.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Note that we are not endowed with happiness, or entitled to happiness, only endowed with the right to pursue happiness. That pursuit, for Chris Gardner, included an enlisted stint in the Navy, followed by a struggling career as a medical device salesman. Instead of settling, even with a toddler son, Gardner seized on a dream of great success.

That dream was sparked by a curbside encounter with an older white man, in sharp but not flashy attire, stepping out of a gleaming red Ferrari. “Two questions: what do you do and how do you do it?” The first answer was the man was a stockbroker. The second answer turned out to be an unpaid course of training, that would put Chris Gardner and his toddler son in homeless shelters or the BART bathroom stalls for almost a year. Those scenes are harrowing without any exaggeration.

At the end of the day, Chris Gardner kept his promise to never abandon his son, and got very rich, and has done a great deal of good in this world. He praised Will Smith’s portrayal in the book’s acknowledgments, published shortly before the movie was released. If you have not watched the movie, do so, watching an indomitable will, tempered by an unyielding morality.

There are 6 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Arahant Member

    I saw the previews back when it came out. Perhaps I could give it a second look.

    • #1
    • August 15, 2018, at 11:13 PM PDT
  2. Arahant Member

    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series under August’s theme of Will. You can write about some aspect of the word will, about a guy named Will, or combine the two as Colonel Brown did. We still have five openings on our schedule and sign-up sheet, so if this has spurred an idea, why not come share it with us?

    • #2
    • August 15, 2018, at 11:17 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown


    • #3
    • August 15, 2018, at 11:29 PM PDT
  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Clifford A. Brown: The second answer turned out to be an unpaid course of training, that would put Chris Gardner and his toddler son in homeless shelters or the BART bathroom stalls for almost a year.

    That’s not at all what I expected the movie would be about. Thanks. I will watch it sometime.

    • #4
    • August 16, 2018, at 5:53 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor

    We saw it and we loved it: gritty, inspiring and hopeful. Thanks for shining a light on it @cliffordbrown.

    • #5
    • August 16, 2018, at 8:54 AM PDT
  6. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I wasn’t as impressed. As I recall, his wife had a point – the family needed him to bring home regular pay. But he was stubborn about selling every last one of those medical devices even though it was a sunk cost, and even though there was nothing preventing him from selling on the side as he looked for a regular paying job. For that matter, why purchase all those machines up front seemingly without talking with his wife about it? 

    And at first I was moved by the part about sleeping in the bathroom – until I recognized it for just one more bad decision in series of bad decisions. Why couldn’t he get a job after his internship hours? Why couldn’t he stay with his wife and do that? Wouldn’t that have made it a bit easier to accomplish? 

    • #6
    • August 16, 2018, at 5:43 PM PDT
    • Like

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.