The word "edgy" is not one that has been historically associated with actor Will Smith, but a recent string of uncharacteristically blunt remarks about Donald Trump's presidential campaign suggest the "Suicide Squad" star may be ready to step into the political fray with a vengeance.
Is America ready for the "Fresh Prince" as president?
Trump has certainly shaken up traditional notions of who can be considered a credible candidate for the White House. Smith himself has hinted at a career change, telling The Hollywood Reporter last fall: "I look at the political landscape, I think that there might be a future out there for me. They might need me out there."
It was a stunning admission from an actor who had only previously talked about playing a president on-screen. If anything, Smith's career has been defined by being risk-averse and cautiously avoiding controversy — in the same Hollywood Reporter sit-down he raised eyebrows by saying "racism is actually rare."
"I think that is authentically who Will Smith was," argues BET entertainment editor Clay Cane, who recently interviewed the actor and shares a West Philadelphia background with the two-time Academy Award nominee. Cane applauds Smith's outspokenness and believes his celebrity is helpful in terms of raising awareness of Trump's deficiencies as a candidate, but he also thinks the actor's concerns are genuine.
"What’s happening in West Philadelphia is horrible. And although Will Smith is famous, his roots still exist. He’s still connected to his roots and if you haven’t forgotten where you come from that keeps your grounded," Cane told NBC News.
As an established A-list star entering a new phase of his life and career, he may also feel more liberated to speak his mind. For instance, on Tuesday, during a "Suicide Squad" press event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Smith spoke candidly about the perception of anti-Muslim bias back in the U.S.
"The Middle East can't allow Fox News to be the arbiter of the imagery, you know," he said. "So cinema is a huge way to be able to deliver the truth of the soul of a place to a global audience.”
He then went on to pointedly attack Trump's controversial Muslim ban proposal: “As painful as it is to hear Donald Trump talk and as embarrassing as it is as an American to hear him talk, I think it’s good,” Smith said. “We get to know who people are and now we get to cleanse it out of our country.”
These comments came just a week after Smith lamented that the Republican presidential candidate's rhetoric towards women had found a captive audience.
“For a man to be able to publicly refer to a woman as a fat pig, that makes me teary,” he said during an interview with news.com.au. “And for people to applaud, that is absolutely f***king insanity to me. My grandmother would have smacked my teeth out of my head if I had referred to a woman as a fat pig. And I cannot understand how people can clap for that. It’s absolutely collective insanity. If one of my sons — I am getting furious just thinking about it — if one of my sons said that in a public place, they couldn’t even live in my house anymore.”
"For me, deep down in my heart, I believe that America won't and we can't (elect Trump)," he added.
But Smith's streak of outspokenness hasn't just been limited to the presidential race. During an appearance earlier this month on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," the 47-year-old actor spoke with a degree of cynicism about the claim that racial divisions have never been worse.
“Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed," he told Fallon.
And earlier this year, he backed his wife Jada Pinkett Smith's call for an African-American boycott of the Oscars, after the Academy Awards failed to recognize a single actor or actress of color (including himself, a would-be contender for the NFL drama "Concussion") for the second year in a row.
Why is Smith taking a stand now?
Until "Suicide Squad," which not only posted the best August opening weekend of all time but also the strongest of Smith's career, he had been reeling from a string of flops including "Focus," "After Earth," and the aforementioned "Concussion."
And the case could be made that "Suicide Squad" succeeded in spite of Smith, not because of him — the DC Comics brand was the main selling point of the movie's ad campaign, not the former "Men in Black" star.
As the power of name-above-the-title movie stars continues its steady decline, Smith may recognize that he could have more impact as a celebrity candidate than as a marquee attraction. In the past, the actor has spoken about the potential for film to shape people’s "hearts and minds,” but perhaps he believes that he can be a more effective change agent from within the political arena.
"I think he could, if he applies himself in the right way," said Cane, who points out that Smith already navigated the transition from hip-hop star to Oscar contender with relative ease. Also, according to Cane, the actor told him he's "almost like a mad man when it comes to accomplishing a goal."
"If he wants to (become a politician), I certainly think he can," said Cane.
Still, as far as 2016 is concerned, branding expert Karen Post thinks Hillary Clinton shouldn't hold her breath for a Smith-inspired bounce in the polls.
"Will Will Smith's super brand make a difference? I don't believe it will," she told NBC News. "Most already know who they like, the big question will be, who shows up to vote?"