NEW YORK — Two-time Academy Award nominee Will Smith plays Christian Dr. Bennet Omalu in the film "Concussion," which documents the relentless pursuit of the truth to reveal how football is causing long-term brain damage to players amidst backlash from the NFL.
The inspiring story of "Concussion" is about Omalu, the Nigerian-born forensic pathologist who made headline news after discovering how concussions affact the brain. The film is widely expected to be an Oscar contender and Omalu had nothing but praise for Smith.
"He spent time with me and he was very observant. And, in fact, he (Smith) had said what made him accept the role was meeting me," Omalu told The Christian Post. "The spiritual stuff is deep. We met, we shared and we communed the love of God, and he also saw the light. The spirit of God also touched him."
"Will smith is a very good person, pristine individual. He reminded me of my childhood perception of America as the land of perfection. He optimises perfection, its exceptional and he put in so much heart and soul, so much energy into this role," he continued.
Omalu described how he was involved in the making of "Concussion" and did everything he could do within his means to enhance Smith's performance. According to the doctor all of the hard work and dedication paid off.
"When I saw the movie, I wept — I cried because it was almost a transubstantiation. As the movie went on I don't know what happened, I became oblivious of myself, I was now seeing me in that movie and it remained that way until the movie ended," he told CP. "I woke up and was like, 'oh my gosh what just happened.' This is how perfect he was, what a phenomenal job he has done."
Smith said his own Christian faith, which was instilled in him by his grandmother, helped him to accurately portray Omalu. "My grandmother was really my connection to God."
"She was my spiritual teacher, she was that grandmother at the church, the one having the kids doing the Easter presentations and putting on the Christmas plays and her kids and grandkids had to be first. She was the most spiritually certain person that I had ever met in my entire life. Even to the point that when she was dying she was happy, like she was really excited about going to heaven."
Omalu, whose Christian faith is featured throughout the film, told CP that he believed he was the "wrong person" to have discovered this problem — implying that God often uses unlikely people to change the world. His research led to his discovery but it was his faith that compelled him to be bold in the midst of great opposition.
Smith explained that the difficulty in capturing Omalu on screen was understanding forensic pathology. "With Bennet, the scientific part was the new addition because my grandmother wasn't a woman of science, you know, she was a woman of spirituality, of the Bible. For Bennet to connect that part of it was the new addition that was interesting and a little more difficult to reconcile for me. But the spirituality was deeply and easily comprehensible."
For the ambitious doctor, his work in medicine has always been deeply spiritual. As a committed Catholic who says he reads the Bible every day, he made sure that faith was an intricate part of "Concussion."
"Through Will Smith you see glimpses of my faith in the film. My faith in God, and belief that God calls us to be strong and courageous," he said, crediting his faith for giving him the courage to confront the dark secret of concussions in the NFL.
"I'm happy when I hear people say 'this is the best he [Smith] has done,' because it was that same spirit of God. That is why I want everybody to go see that movie, every Christian should go see that movie, because when you're walking out of that theater after seeing that movie you'll be so proud of our faith as Christians and you'll be so proud of being American," Omalu exclaimed.
"Sometimes people think that being American or being a scientist are diametrically opposed to being a Christian. No! Because science [and] America are all founded upon the truth, our faith seeks the truth. So there's a commonality, there's a common goal. Our faith as Christians synergizes with our ethnicity as Americans and our practice as professional scientist. That is why it is being released on Christmas Day. What could be better than that?"
After revealing his findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the NFL instigated a barrage of attacks against the doctor that included racial, religious and professional insults in an attempt to discredit him.
When asked how he had the courage to expose the correlation between football and traumatic brain injury, Omalu said it was his faith in God's Word that helped him be resilient.
"God said that He is above every principality, above every power, authority, rulers in high places. And Psalm 27 says: 'God is the light of my salvation whom shall I fear? God is my stronghold of whom shall I be afraid?' Jesus tells us do not be afraid, peace be with you," he explained. "So if I profess God as my Lord, I should know no fear. If in the humility of my faith I come to God to surrender, the spirit of God guides me I really believe I should know no fear if I'm doing what I'm doing in truth."
Omalu, who moved to the United States to pursue the American dream, maintained that he was just the vessel used by God to help others understand the dangers of CTE. He did not want the credit, but said he had to share the truth.
When asked what he believed truth was, he concluded by saying: "God is truth. He is the truth. He is the life, He is the way, and the currency of God with us is our faith. He calls us to believe. He is the God of the impossible. he make the impossible, possible only if you believe and open up yourself to be used as an instrument of God's peace."