Actor Will Smith will portray real-life gangster Nicky Barnes in Netflix’s The Council. Known as “Mr. Untouchable,” the late American crime boss was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, and also by Sean Combs in Michael Bregman’s Carlito's Way: Rise to Power.
Born and raised in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Barnes’ rise to power was based on lessons learned from the Italian-American mafia. While serving time in jail, Barnes famously befriended the Colombo Crime Family member Joe Gallo, who was ultimately murdered in 1972. That same year, Barnes established an African-American crime organization known as “The Council” and started a heroin-trafficking empire. A 1977 profile in The New York Times Magazine caught the attention of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and Barnes was subsequently arrested, tried, and given a life in prison sentence, all within six months. Barnes later became part of the U.S. government’s Witness Protection Program and passed away in 2012. His death was made public in June 2019.
Now Collider reports that Smith will portray Barnes in Netflix’s upcoming crime film The Council. The storyline will apparently chronicle the inner workings of "The Council," and how Barnes managed to sustain power while competing with fellow heroin trafficker Frank Lucas (who was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the aforementioned American Gangster). The Council’s screenplay was written by Peter Landesman, who previously wrote the 2015 drama Concussion, starring Smith. Landesman is also known for writing and directing the 2013 John F. Kennedy film Parkland, along with the Jeremy Renner-led political thriller Kill the Messenger.
Smith fans may be surprised by his latest role selection, at least given his career-long dedication to portraying heroic figures. Many people know Smith as the endearingly flawed protagonist from NBC’s ‘90s series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and for being one of the decade's premiere blockbuster stars. Smith reached his career apex, arguably, upon delivering an Oscar-winning performance in the 2001 film Ali. Since then, his children - Willow, Jaden, and Trey - have become relatively well-known in pop culture, while their father has consistently chosen safe movie roles. After a string of box office failures, Smith gained momentum with the 2019 hit Aladdin, and has a leading role - dual roles, actually - in the new Ang Lee film Gemini Man.
The Council just may be the Netflix film that jumpstarts the next phase of Smith’s career. But it’s possible that Smith may be most interested in the organizational aspects of Barnes' empire, rather than the more violent side effects. Meaning, the The Council may play out like a procedural instead of a traditional action film. Maybe, just maybe, Smith will earn some Oscar buzz once again.