Entertainment & Arts

Will Smith film Concussion 'not altered to appease NFL' says Sony

Will Smith Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Concussion stars Smith alongside Alec Baldwin and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Sony has hit back at suggestions that it downplayed elements of forthcoming Will Smith film Concussion to appease the National Football League (NFL).

Concussion focuses on real-life whistle-blower Dr Bennet Omalu (Smith) and his confrontation with the NFL.

Omalu was implicit in diagnosing CTE, a degenerative brain disease arising from repeated head trauma - a condition which the NFL sought to cover up.

But Sony claims "nothing... has been 'softened' to placate anyone".

Earlier this week, the New York Times published a story stating that emails leaked last autumn, during the hack on Sony Pictures, apparently show the film was amended to avoid upsetting the powerful NFL.

"In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing [sic] the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league," wrote Ken Belson, in the New York Times on Tuesday.

'Hard-hitting'

On Thursday, Sony issued a statement calling the Times story "misleading", adding that journalist had not actually seen the film - due out in December.

"As will become immediately clear to anyone actually seeing the movie, nothing with regard to this important story has been 'softened' to placate anyone,'' the statement read.

"We always intended to make an entertaining, hard-hitting film about Dr. Omalu's David-and-Goliath story, which played out like a Hollywood thriller,'' said the film's director, Landesman, in a further statement to the Associated Press.

"Anyone who sees the movie will know that it never once compromises the integrity and the power of the real story."

Image copyright Sony Pictures
Image caption Smith plays Nigerian-born Dr Bennet Omalu in Concussion.

Leaked emails published during the film's production last year suggest a degree of concern over the NFL's reaction to the film, with an independent consultant hired to deal with the organisation.

In early July 2014, Sony executive Hannah Minghella said, in a leaked email, that "rather than portray the NFL as one corrupt organization, can we identify the individuals within the NFL who were guilty of denying/covering up the truth."

The same month, former Sony Pictures boss, Amy Pascal, cautioned in an email: "We need to know exactly what we can and can't do and if this is a 'true' story or not. I know these can be dicey waters but none more than this one."

Accuracy

Director Landesman has acknowledged that a scene featuring NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was cut from the film.

Another email - from Sony chairman Michael Lynton - highlighted that Sony lawyer Aimee Wolfson "took out most of the bite for legal reasons with the NFL".

An email from Doug Belgrad, president of Sony's motion picture unit, in October last year reiterated the importance of fact-checking: "If we fudge or embellish the NFL's actions on this issue, it could compromise the success of our pic,'' he wrote.

The recently released trailer for Concussion portrays the NFL as a foreboding opponents, telling Omalu - "You're going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week.''

The NFL which, in recent years, has donated millions of dollars to study the effects of concussion and develop treatment, has not publicly commented on the film's stance, limiting its statement to the health issues raised in the film.

"We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety.. we have no higher priority. We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer."

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