Smith was born in Los Angeles, California. His father is African-American and his mother is of Italian and French-Canadian descent. He is the fifth born of nine siblings. Smith graduated from the Orange County School of the Arts in 2013, and has performed in shows around Orange County.
In 2014, Smith appeared in Nickelodeon's superhero comedy series The Thundermans, playing Angus in two episodes. He also appeared in the HBO's documentary series Masterclass and VlogBrothers. In 2015, Smith had a supporting role as Marcus "Radar" Lincoln, in Paper Towns. The film was directed by Jake Schreier and released on July 24, 2015 by 20th Century Fox.
In 2016, Smith broke out in the lead role of Ezekiel Figuero in Netflix's musical drama series The Get Down, which premiered in August 2016 and concluded in April 2017, being cancelled shortly thereafter. In 2017, Smith was on Forbes 30 under 30 List.
Smith also appeared in New York, opposite Lucas Hedges, in the Off-Broadway stage production of Yen by playwright, Anna Jordan. The production ran at the Lucille Lortel Theater starting January 2017 and closed on March 4, 2017.
In February 2018, Smith co-starred in Every Day as Justin, boyfriend of lead character Rhiannon. A few months later, in June 2018, he had a major role in the science fiction sequel Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
In November 2018, it was announced that Smith would star in Pokémon Detective Pikachu, a live-action film based on the video game of the same name. In July 2018, Smith was set to star alongside Elle Fanning in All the Bright Places, to be directed by Brett Haley from a screenplay by Liz Hannah and Jennifer Niven. The latter authored the novel upon which the film is based. Filming was confirmed to commence in the fall of 2018.
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