Smith starred in the 1996 sci-fi action film Independence Day, acting opposite Jeff Goldblum, Randy Quaid, Bill Pullman and Mary McDonnell.
To celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary this week, the director Ronald Emmerich and producer-writer Dean Devlin spoke to The Hollywood Reporter.
Emmerich claimed that studio executives were initially resistant to casting Smith, arguing that the inclusion of a Black actor would mean the film would underperform in foreign markets.
“It was pretty clear it had to be Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. That was the combo we thought,” said Emmerich.
“The studio said, ‘No, we don’t like Will Smith. He’s unproven. He doesn’t work in international [markets].”
Devlin recalled: “They said, ‘You cast a Black guy in this part, you’re going to kill foreign [box office].’”
Adamant that Smith be cast in the role, however, Devlin and Emmerich argued that “the movie is about space aliens” and therefore would “do fine” in foreign markets.
Devlin described the disagreement as “a big war” between themselves and the studio, adding that Emmerich “really stood up for [Smith]”.
“I put my foot down,” said the director, stating that he told 20th Century Fox that he would move to Universal studios if they did not agree.
“I don’t think it would have been a possibility [to actually move studios], but it was a great threat,” he said.
Independence Day grossed $817m (£591m) worldwide, making it the highest grossing film of the year, beating out blockbusters including Twister, Scream, and Mission: Impossible for the top spot.