Ooh, Interesting! - The Fijian Island that Worships Will Smith

April 01, 2016

Another Friday, another fascinating curiosity piece from the world of ‘Ooh, Interesting!’ fascinating facts! Today we delve deep into the world of Will Smith and the strange manner in which he is worshipped by an island just off Fiji.

You might not know much about Fiji aside from the fact it’s pretty near Australia and New Zealand and that they love rugby. You might be aware, however, of the fact it is surrounded by a great many islands – many of them inhabited – and for this week’s blog we are focusing on one that is actually quite near the main Fijian coastline. To the east of Fiji is an island called Lamiti. North of these are two smaller islands named Batiki and Nairai Island and north of that, according to Google maps, is an even smaller island, apparently unnamed. It's just to the top right corner of this screengrab.

 Not so. This island does have a name. It is the island of Lowrey and is home to just 45 people. They live what many might believe is an idyllic lifestyle; they enjoy the simple life of fish meals, endless walks on the beach and a mutual love of all things Will Smith. In fact, the island itself even got its name from the A-list Hollywood actor – he plays Mike Lowrey in the films Bad Boys and Bad Boys II.

We know what you’re thinking, how on earth did an island off Fiji manage to worship at the altar of a global box office superstar? Well, naturally, there was a Western influence, at least at first. After the drug lord Pablo Escobar’s death at the hands of Colonel Hugo Martinez’s Search Bloc in late 1993, his widow Maria Henao, his son Juan Pablo and his daughter, Manuela, eventually fled Colombia in 1995 but found it difficult to find a country that would allow them asylum. Naturally, if you find an island to buy however, this problem goes away. Thankfully for the Escobars, Pablo was worth over $30 billion and even though a lot of the money had been taken by the authorities, there was still more than enough for an island.

The Escobars settled on the island of Lowrey and named it after Will Smith in honour of Escobar. Apparently he had seen the film Made in America a few months before his murder and ironically gave it his seal of approval before his death (after all, he himself made most of his money through smuggling cocaine into the USA). Manuela read about the film Bad Boys as they moved to the island and decided it was a fitting way to honour their deceased father after recognising a photo of Smith in the promotional material.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting. Naturally the Fijian government didn’t take too kindly to being affiliated with a family like the Escobars even if they personally had nothing to do with Pablo Escobar’s dealings (indeed, the family later changed their name). After an intense period of negotiation with the family, Fiji managed to convince the family to head elsewhere in early 1997. Interestingly though, after the island was written about in Rolling Stone magazine just a month later, Fiji experienced an influx in tourism and interest surrounding the island around the release of Will Smith’s monster hit Men in Black.

Wanting to feed off this unexpected money maker, Fiji held a screening of the film on Lowrey and a small portion of people apparently fell in love with the tropical setting. Nobody moved to the island at that moment but after subsequent screenings in later years of Enemy of the State and Wild Wild West, a few people did indeed move to the island permanently.

And this is how it continues today. It may have been a bit of a stretch to say the residents worship Will Smith – only two people on the island are named after the actor (twin boys going by questionable names of Hitch and Hancock respectively), but they are excited to be hosting two screenings of films by the actor later this year, Suicide Squad and Collateral Beauty. As for the reason Google doesn’t list the island’s name? Well, the Fijian government are keen on rebranding it to something that relates a little more to their nation than Hollywood actor Will Smith and are hopeful of losing the Escobar link once and for all. Their current new name for the island of ‘Epirili Tonto’ (in English – ‘April Fool’) is yet to catch on.  

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By Henry Fosdike