How Dave Chappelle Almost Starred In Tom Hanks’ Greatest Movie

Dave Chappelle almost played Bubba in Forrest Gump, but turned it down due to concerns about the treatment of a Black man in the story.

By Mark McKee | Updated

Tom Hanks and Mykelti Williamson

“Run, Forrest, run!” That is precisely what Dave Chapelle did when offered the role of Bubba Blue in the mid-90s classic Forrest Gump, which paved the way for Mykelti Williamson to join Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, and Gary Sinise in one of the most pivotal and influential movies of a generation. According to Vulture, this is only one of the roles the stand-up comedian turned down, and he did so for racial reasons surrounding his proposed character. 

Back in 1994, Tom Hanks was just entering the prime of his career, one that is still going strong today. When Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future fame was brought on to direct the feature film based on the book of the same name, he landed the actor for the lead role. Of course, there was still the problem of casting one of the more important characters in the book, Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue. 

Undoubtedly, Dave Chappelle would have seen a different career if he had agreed to star in Forest Gump, as he had only seen minor roles (most notably as Ah-Choo in Mel Brook’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights) and stand-up success at that point. However, the always controversial comedian expressed concerns over the character’s portrayal in the film, saying that no matter how dumb they portray a white person, they will find a black person to make them look dumber. He ultimately passed on the role, and the part went to Mykelti Williamson. 

Williamson didn’t seem to share the same concerns as Dave Chappelle when he took on the role in Forrest Gump, even suggesting they change the character in the book to the one we see on-screen. In the book, Bubba was a much more intelligent character, but legend has it that despite the backlash the film has gotten for the treatment of the black character, it was Williamson’s idea to make him less intelligent to appear as more of a peer to Gump. In any case, Williamson took on the role that would become one of the biggest of his career to date and in one of the decade’s biggest movies

tom hanks

Dave Chappelle may have disliked what he was offered in Forrest Gump, and many people will tell you that if you squander an opportunity in Hollywood, then you won’t get another. But Chappelle didn’t allow that to stop him as he went on to have a long and successful career, even starring with Mykelti Williamson in the Nicolas Cage action flick Con Air and Tom Hanks in the rom-com, You’ve Got Mail

Chappelle has always been known as a comedian that doesn’t pull any punches; he speaks what he sees as the truth, and sometimes that gets him into trouble as of late. His role as Bubba may have exposed him to a much wider audience and made him into a more serious or dramatic actor, making the proposed-but-failed biopic about his mentor Charlie Bennet more likely but the pivotal Chappelle’s Show less likely. Dave Chappelle in Forrest Gump may be a fun piece of trivia now, but at the time, it could have entirely changed the iconic film we know.