Sony made changes to Will Smith’s ‘Concussion’ to make sure the NFL didn’t get angry

The leaking of thousands of Sony Pictures emails last fall is still giving the studio a headache, as everyone now has access to messages that detail the making of their films. Messages related to awards contender Concussion were among them and detail how the studio tried to make sure the film didn’t anger the NFL.

The first trailer for Concussion came out on Monday and shows Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first linked CTE, a degenerative brain disease, with constant blows to the head. Thousands of NFL players have sued the league for not acknowledging the dangers of the game and the league has tried to cover up links between the game and CTE.

The New York Times dug into the leaked emails and revealed on Tuesday that they show a studio trying to figure out how the NFL will react to it. In the emails, it’s clear that Sony was trying to position the film as a movie more about a whistleblower than an anti-NFL movie.

“Will is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn’t planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn’t be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge,” Dwight Caines, president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, wrote to three executives in August 2014. “We’ll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.”

Caines didn’t comment on his email, but Sony said that the consultant he mentioned wasn’t an NFL employee, but a consultant that deals with the league.

Still, there are other notes from last summer, with one person writing that “unflattering moments” were edited or cut and a Sony lawyer taking out “most of the bite...for legal reasons with the N.F.L. and that it was not a balance issue.”

Amy Pascal, who was co-chairman at Sony Pictures at the time, wrote that the studio was committed to making it, but noted that they needed to be cautious. She cited criticisms of Zero Dark Thirty, Moneyball and The Social Network for not sticking close to the truth. “I know these can be dicey waters but none more than this one,” she wrote in July 2014.

Writer/director Peter Landesman insisted to the Times that the studio didn’t bow to pressure from the NFL. Instead, they were trying to limit the chances that the NFL could attack the filmmakers after Concussion comes out. He even suggested that the cuts Sony’s lawyers mader resulted in a “better and richer and fairer” story.

“There was never an instance where we compromised the storytelling to protect ourselves from the N.F.L.,” Landesman said.

Concussion opens on Dec. 25.

screenshot from 'Concussion' trailer

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