Will Smith used to be the biggest name in Hollywood. Even today, his name still carries a certain weight, supported by a solid IMDB page and a squeaky clean image. He also just seems like a nice guy. A month ago, you probably saw him and his son on your TV more. A few weeks ago you probably became aware that they were starring in a big budget movie together. Yesterday, you learned that not only was it terrible, but it was bombing at the box office… hard. But instead of shock, the reaction has been a sort of perverse delight. The critics and audiences appear almost giddy in their critique of the film. Wasn’t Will Smith supposed to be our friend?
Culturally, we love a good fall of the giant. It could be argued that watching Britney Spears spiral into obscurity (which, a decade later, she is only just crawling out of) was one of the defining moments of the 2000s. In this way, I’m not surprised that After Earth‘s poor performance has been cheered, but there is another element to this story that is contributing to the backlash: Will Smith and his family may be Scientologists.
While never confirmed, there is a sizable amount of evidence to suggest that Will Smith does, at minimum, associate with the Church of Scientology. This isn’t really surprising considering how many other Hollywood celebrities are members of the church, but with that knowledge comes a backlash that others have seen nearly destroy their careers.
Before I go further I want to make it clear that I think, personally, Scientology is completely bogus. Even a brief glimpse into the teachings of the religion shows that it’s completely insane. There really is no other way to put it. The teachings of Scientology are insane and should be available to public and scientific scrutiny where it can be properly exposed as nonsense. But here’s the thing: It’s not any more crazy than any of the “established” religions. It’s just newer. And we have documents and witnesses and evidence that expose it as an invention where as the documents and witnesses and evidence of Christianity, Judaism and Islam’s short comings are buried under 1000 years of sand. So let’s afford it the same amount of reverence that we do other religions, or better yet, give the same amount of scrutiny to the older religions that we do to Scientology.
There are a lot of articles written in the past few days that claim that After Earth is about Scientology, or use Scientology themes, or was written as propaganda for Scientology.
I won’t speak to the veracity of those claims but I do think that either way, it’s hypocritical to dismiss it merely for that reason. If we scorned Christian themes in movies the same way we do Scientology ones, we would not only deprive ourselves of a great deal of the films, but we would also make Fox News very angry.
So stop with the double standard. It’s creepy and makes us look bad. And when a subject gets this much traction in the media it should send off alarms: something interesting is going on here. We need to analyze these emotions, especially if they skew towards hatefulness, and root out what the real issue is. In this case, I think the root issue is: Scientology isn’t Christianity, it’s followed by the people we love to see taken down a peg, and it’s extremely easy to mock. Those three elements create the perfect storm of self righteous public scorn but it also isn’t nice. I know you aren’t supposed to say things like something isn’t nice as a full grown adult (we are encouraged to add more hyperbole), but that’s what it is. We are being unfair to Will Smith and it isn’t nice. He deserves better; he gave us Fresh Prince of Bel-Air AND Men in Black.
The movie itself sounds like a self serving mess. The kind of film with a concept that only M. Night Shyamalan could ruin, it has been widely panned as simply unlikable and uninspired. While a part of me is glad the shameless nepotism that Will Smith tried to pull over on us hasn’t worked out (after all, he had to earn our love, he seems to feel that his son is entitled to it), I am worried that if we allow ourselves to be swayed by the nastiness of religious persecution, it will be that lesson that Jaden learns and not that he should, I don’t know, work for his A list status. Remember, Jaden Smith is 14 years old. He has been raised by parents who (probably) believe in Scientology, and, if you were him, it would be pretty crappy to think that a project that you worked so hard on was failing because of your personal beliefs.
Finally, I don’t want to seem insensitive to the hundreds of lives the Church of Scientology has destroyed by it’s own vileness. As I stated earlier, this isn’t meant to defend Scientology, just expose the hypocrisy of hating it for the wrong reasons. If we thought that a film’s artistic value is inextricably linked to it’s creators or stars, then why don’t we act the same for this:
That we do for this: