I see a lot of that in Will, when I watch him acting. Dig his style in Hancock or I Robot. Whatever you think of those movies, you can see hip-hop oozing out of dude’s pores. I make no brief for black exceptionalism here–this is how identity works. But I think one of the things that’s so cool about this generation–the Andre 3000s, the Jay-Z’s, the Colson Whitehead, the Junot Diazes–is how we claim our heritage but not to the exclusion of the rest of the world.
I like Will Smith, and I can appreciate Coates’ larger point about black identity in popular culture. That said, the on-screen persona he’s describing varies little from role to role. In some contexts – “Independence Day,” for example – it’s fine to have a brash young black guy as the leading man, but in other roles, it’s just boring. Will Smith as Will Smith by some other name isn’t as fun as it used to be, which is a shame, because underneath it all the guy is a genuinely decent actor (the underrated “Ali” or his recent turn in “I Am Legend” come to mind).