Real-life 'Concussion' doctor praises Will Smith for bringing his story to big screen
Dr. Bennet Omalu’s story of courage and defiance brilliantly comes to life by way of Will Smith in the biographical sports drama Concussion.
The film, which hits theaters nationwide Christmas Day, tells the story of how Dr. Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist, discovers a neurological deterioration that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease found in NFL athletes who sustain repeated football-related head trauma.
The NFL attempts to deny the problem and begins to disparage Dr. Omalu, forcing his family to leave Pittsburgh and move across the country to California.
In an interview with theGrio, Dr. Omalu opened up about selling his life rights for $1 in hopes of bringing his story to the big screen, and he praised Smith for taking on a role that will inevitably spark debate amongst football enthusiasts.
“Will Smith took this story as his own public service. He took my story from the depths of the valley to the mountain peak of the American psyche,” Dr. Omalu said. “He has transformed this story into a national discourse. It’s the Will Smith effect.”
Dr. Omalu also revealed that Idris Elba and Oscar-winner Denzel Washington were at one point considered for Smith’s role in Concussion.
Check out theGrio’s full interview with Dr. Omalu below:
TheGrio: What does it feel like seeing a megawatt star like Will Smith bringing your story to life?
Dr. Omalu: I never made this about myself. I rather made it about football players and their families. I rather made it about the greater American family. This is just a wonderfully exceptional country. Only in America could you have my story. I used my education and knowledge to contribute my littler part to the advancement of the American family. I would encourage everyone to go see this movie. This is not a movie about football. It’s a story about our common humanity. The essence of who we are as a people.
Will Smith took this story as his own public service. Took this story from the depths of the valley to the mountain peak of the American psyche. He has transformed this story into a national discourse. It’s the Will Smith effect. I walked out of this movie very proud that I am in America.
Were you at all involved in the early production of this film?
I was involved from the beginning cuts. What happened was years ago I ran into an African-American woman. She was very excited that her two sons were playing high school football. If you notice almost 70% of professional football players are black. I said to her, ‘football can damage your son’s brain.’ She looked at me like I was a big fool. I was very saddened by this experience. I knew I had to do something to increase the awareness that football can cause life-damaging effects.
I see Hollywood as a very powerful agent of change. My best bet was to take it to Hollywood. I ran into a very young, brilliant producer, David Waltroff. I signed over my life rights to David for a dollar. We worked on it for five years. It finally got to Giannina Scott, Ridley Scott’s wife. Who took it to Ridley. Ridley took it to Sony. From then on, I was a major consultant for the movie in every phase. Every step of the way. From casting to the editing.
The movie is an accurate depiction of my experience.
Was there anybody else that you had on your short list to play you aside from Will Smith?
Selecting who plays me was above my pay grade. I spent days in Hollywood with producers and writers. They wanted to delve into my personality traits. The short list before Ridley Scott approached Will Smith was Denzel Washington, Will Smith, and Idris Elba. But after they met me, everybody agreed it should be Will Smith. He accepted graciously.
Will Smith transformed in the film to the point when I watched the movie I was in a trance and didn’t even realize I was watching my story. In studying me, Will Smith pointed out certain aspects of my character that I wasn’t aware of.
At a certain point, your battle with the NFL gets personal and hits home. Was it hard for you to relive that part of your story?
I still get teary especially in the scene where Will Smith goes to the house that I built for my wife. The week that we finished building that house was the week that we left Pittsburg. That was a very painful day for me. I was being vilified for doing nothing. Some of the scenes, I would get teary. Every scene in that movie happened.
What are your hopes and fears for this film?
I have no fears. We shouldn’t be afraid of anything. My hope is if you are Christian, you should go see this movie. This film reaffirms that faith can change anything. He is a God that makes impossible things possible. In fact, that is what it is to be a dreamer. When you dream, you dream the impossible, and through faith, the impossible becomes the possible. That is what this movie is about. Every American should go see this movie to remind us what we are as a greater American family. This film is about a nobody from Africa who only had a dream to be American.
Is this a cautionary tale to parents about the perils of playing football?
This movie it not anti-football. This movie embraces football; it enhances the sport. This movie should make you appeal to your sense of decency, to ask yourself the question: is this the right thing to do?
Bottom line, do you think kids should play football?
I have a six-year-old son. I wouldn’t let him play football. When a child becomes an adult and makes up his mind to play or do whatever he wants to do, I’ll be one of the first to stand by his side, for liberty and freedom to do what he wants to do. But not for a child.