When Jaden Smith decided to star in a Luis Vuitton women’s wear campaign two years ago, wearing a black-and-white print skirt, a tasseled sweater and a leather jacket, we collectively lost our judgmental minds.
This is not how people raise their kids. But what do you expect when folks go Hollywood?
I wondered why Smith’s parents, especially his mother, Jada Pinkett-Smith, didn’t let those who so publicly criticized her parenting skills have it. I even remember thinking, “Wow, she’s pretty evolved.”
Now I know just how evolved she is. Pinkett-Smith is hosting Red Table Talk on Facebook Watch, the new streaming initiative from the social media giant. At the red table, Pinkett-Smith is joined by her 17-year-old daughter, Willow, who is the spitting image of Will Smith; and Pinkett-Smith’s perpetually fly mom, 64-year-old Adrienne Banfield-Jones.
“When Jaden got asked to do a woman’s campaign for Louis Vuitton, this kind of gender-fluid fashion, Will called me … and he said, ‘My son is not supposed be in Louis Vuitton wearing skirts,’ ” Pinkett-Smith said in last Monday’s episode of Red Table Talk. That episode featured Magic Johnson’s wife, Cookie, and their fabulous, silver-eye-shadow-wearing son, E.J.
From one of the most well-known families in America, the outspoken E.J. Johnson brings his mother Cookie to the Red Table for a colorful discussion about gender fluidity, individuality, and fashion. He and Willow explain how their generation has very different ideas about gender stereotypes, and how they stay true to themselves in the face of societal expectations.
Posted by Red Table Talk on Monday, June 18, 2018
“And I was like, ‘That’s what he wants. This is his expression.’ And [Will] said it was OK … It was tight,” ” Pinkett-Smith said.
The Red Table Talk women chat about it all, from the Smith children’s gender-bending tendencies to sex (including vaginal rejuvenation) to surviving loss to body issues. What makes the show really interesting is that Pinkett-Smith, 46, like most Gen-Xers, is sandwiched between her mother, who comes from a generation loath to share pasts they consider shameful, and her millennial kids, who know no shame and share, well, everything.
Thanks to this multigenerational perspective, the conversations are nuanced and deep. In one episode, Willow reveals she’s a cutter. Banfield-Jones talks about falling prey to drugs. Pinkett-Smith says it was her grandmother who taught her the importance of masturbation. Instead of wallowing in the embarrassment and brokenness associated with these taboo topics, this family turns the situations into not just teaching, but healing, moments.
In a phone interview last week, I asked Pinkett-Smith why all the sharing now? What is behind this Oprah-esque pull to help us heal?
“I think we are tired of suffering,” Pinkett-Smith said. “I think we are tired of being in these ruts and not understanding why …. We are talking so much about what’s happening outside of us. But we don’t have enough conversations within us. We need to give ourselves the freedom, the permission to talk about these things.
“We [black women] haven’t always had the luxury of healing, and that makes sense because of the amount of obstacles we’ve had to deal with on a daily basis, whether it’s growing up in a violent neighborhood or a violent household and being told by the world constantly that we aren’t pretty enough. We are immersed in life-and-death issues, and having to deal with that is pretty hard.”
In other words, where is the time for healing?
The first of 10 Red Table Talk episodes debuted in May. Every Monday, millions of people have tuned in for the 20-minute chats. In the “Girls Trippin” episode, actress Gabrielle Union and Pinkett-Smith hashed out their nearly two-decade feud (although we never found why they were feuding to begin with). More than 22 million watched. To follow up each episode, the threesome host Facebook Live on Wednesdays to answer questions from viewers, and longtime friends of the Smiths, like actor Duane Martin, stop by.
More than 2.5 million are part of the Red Table Talk Facebook group.
Last week, Pinkett-Smith announced on Megyn Kelly Today that an additional 13 episodes are set to debut in the fall. And, yes, she says, Will will make an appearance.
The first Red Table Talk, Pinkett-Smith said, was filmed for Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment as a Mother’s Day special in 2012. Willow was only 11. She said several producers had proposed a regular show, but it wasn’t until Pinkett-Smith worked out a deal with Ellen Rakieten, 13-time Emmy winner and a producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, that she agreed to invite us into her home — and what a magnificent home it is — and sit with us around her red table.
“The red table is a symbol of passion … purification,” Pinkett-Smith said. “And with that fire and purification comes healing.”
From her days on A Different World to her recent starring role in Girls Trip, she was never one of Hollywood’s most transparent celebrities. I always considered her cool but tight-lipped.
After Pinkett-Smith married Will Smith, his career took off and she started having children, as she told us in Red Table Talk. Even as we saw her stroll the red carpet on Smith’s arm, she admits she was losing herself.
“When I was younger, I had acquired a certain amount of success and my life was seemingly perfect,” Pinkett-Smith said. “I had money and I had success and I was miserable. I thought I had the answer because that’s all I knew, that money would cure my problems. And then I realized the internal journey had nothing to do with the external circumstances.”
Pinkett-Smith said that’s when her personal growth and healing started. The healing included learning how to co-parent with Will Smith’s ex-wife, Sheree Fletcher, with whom he has a son, Trey. The co-parenting even includes vacationing together. Fletcher and Pinkett-Smith talked about that on the first episode of Red Table Talk, “Motherhood”
With each Red Table Talk, Pinkett-Smith opens up a little more. She shares her battle with alopecia, explaining to viewers that her hair loss is the reason she’s been wearing the cute turbans. She talks about how hard it was to lose her friend rapper Tupac Shakur. And she’s opened up beyond the red table, taking to Instagram in the days after Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths to talk about mental health and how even she had considered suicide.
“With the suicides of Kate and Anthony it brought up feelings of when I was in such despair and had considered the same demise…often.” Pinkett-Smith wrote on her June 12 post.
One thing I’ve learned in my life over the years is that mental health is something we should practice daily, not just when issues arise. We should take care of our mind and spirit in the same way we do our body. With the suicides of Kate and Anthony it brought up feelings of when I was in such despair and had considered the same demise…often. In the years I spent towards my healing, many moons ago, I realized the mind and heart can be extremely delicate without the foundation of a formidable spirit. What I eat, what I watch on TV, what music I listen to, how I care for my body, my spiritual practice, what people I surround myself with, the amount of stress I allow and so on… either contribute to or deteriorate my mental health. Mental health is a daily practice for me. It’s a practice of deep self-love. May Kate and Anthony Rest In Peace. Many may not understand… but I do, and this morning I have the deepest gratitude that I pulled through. . Love.
A post shared by Jada Pinkett Smith (@jadapinkettsmith) on
“In my life there have been people who have been courageous enough to share their personal testimonies with me when I have been having a difficult time in certain aspects of my life,” Pinkett-Smith candidly told me. “And those are among the most powerful gifts you can give.”