I remember vividly the first time I came to know the name Jada Pinkett. It was in the last days of “A Different World,” when the “The Cosby Show ” spin-off sitcom set on a Historically Black College campus was struggling to keep its freshness as it transitioned in to the early 90’s. Beloved characters Dwayne Wayne & Whitley Gilbert were all grown-up and professional, and the show’s once authentic connection to college life, youth culture and energy was dwindling. Insert Jada Pinkett’s Lena James, a powerful pint-sized freshman who boomed with energy and breathed new life in to cast. She joins the cast as a freshman, Lena James, introducing her self to the common area with a not so humble solo step routine: “L to the E, to the N, to the A, Step off, you ain’t getting no play!” From that moment on, in my 9 year-old mind, I was pretty sure I wanted to be her. She exemplified the spirit of what largely came to define the creative Black experience in the 90’s: loud, colorful and unapologetically proud. That was 20 years ago.
Since then, Jada Pinkett Smith has played dozens of roles, amassing a solid and impressive body of work. But these days, she may be known most for is her own personal matrix: wife to Will Smith and mother to their Hollywood whiz kids Jaden & Willow, step-mom, Godmom and imaginary auntie to all of us who subscribe to her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter. And despite the media’s relentless speculation about her marriage and parenting skills, Jada remains steadfastly and resolutely Jada, a quality she attributes to growing up fiercely independent and having the freedom to pursue her wants and dreams. And despite her penchant for provoking conversation and pushing the dialogue of change, when it all comes down to it, Jada Pinkett Smith is likely to tell you this one simple thing: “Do you.”
I find myself on the phone with Jada on a Thursday afternoon about a month ago. She’s in the process of doing promotions for “Free Angela And All Political Prisoners,” the brilliant documentary directed by Shola Lynch. After a friend shared the film with her, Jada came on as a producer using her hollywood muscle to help get the film distributed in select AMC theaters nationwide. What I thought would be the typical 15-minute movie junket interview (abruptly ended by publicists listening in on the other end), turned in to a 90-minute phone call with the real Mrs. Smith about everything from her early relationship with her husband to why people should lay off Rihanna.
In what #TeamBEautiful has deemed the Best.Jada.Interview.Ever., we speak with the stylish and brutally honest A-lister about about parenting, dating, marriage, Black hollywood, and why America loves to hate on little girls.
HB: You get a lot of criticism on the way you parent, has it ever bothered you?
JPS: You know what, I get it. In people eyes, I could see how it could be radical. It’s so funny the more I sit back and think about it, I was raised like this. It’s so natural to me–my situation was different; I had a lot of freedom. My mother worked a lot and she also struggled with drugs. So I had a lot of freedom at 12. But I also paid attention to where freedom worked and where it didn’t. One of the freedoms that I had was hair and clothes and how it completely [helped to] develop my self-esteem and sense of worth. And how, if I could dye my hair blue and shave it on the sides and deal with people remarks or smirks while I am walking to school, I’m good. To be able to stand tall in my own personal convictions for who I am and what I decided I wanted to be. And I was given that at a very early age. So by the time I got to 18 and I came out to LA, there was nobody out here that was going to pull me out of my own Jada game because I was very clear about who I am. You aren’t going to sucker me into to doing some crazy shit I didn’t want to do. I didn’t have someone dictating to me along on what I need to be, and then at 18 struggling to figure out–I was already there. And the difference I see in Willow at 12 is, she’s got a loving father and the truth of the matter is that a girl’s emotional development is really strongly developed based on her relationship with her father. I just think of parenting at this: I don’t believe until waiting until a child is 18 to throw them to the world. I’d rather have kids in my house with me, building out certain freedoms as you go, and being there with them in my house while they are exercising these certain freedom so that we can be in the process in these freedoms together. When my children are 18, they will be fine. I don’t have to worry about them. Life starts when you pop out of the womb, and that’s what I believe!
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HB: You know, it’s strikes me that people get really unnerved by seeing confident young black girls—it’s a thing!
JPS: Let’s talk about it! People get scared, they’re like—you’re going to start that power right now at that age? Nah, nah, nah, hold up! People resent seeing little girls having a sense of self that even they don’t have themselves. They are pissed off! How f*cking dare you? You! Nine?! How dare you think you’re going to do what you want to do! Every woman: black, yellow, white, I don’t care–should have the right of themselves. How you gonna’ get mad at little Miss Q [Quevenzhane]? That girl is getting her groove on! How did you get mad a young girl building herself up, her art, her career, her life? What is wrong with that? People mad at some little girl cause she cut her hair? Hair grows back! It’s not about the hair. This is about having a lack of self-freedom. When people see little people free, it pisses them off because they don’t have it for themselves–and they use the excuse that she’s too young! No, no! What’s too young is Willow going out driving a car, or staying out till 12 o’clock at night–that’s what she’s too young for! But hair? Cut it off!! It was really a beautiful thing for her; it was the best decision I made. Because [for her] it was like, ‘my mother trusts me enough to give me the room to trust that I know what I need for myself at this time’; she totally blossomed from that minute on. That’s when I saw her become herself, and she’s been on that path ever since. I think as women, we have to stop being scared to be the women we want to be and we have raise our daughters to be the women they want to be–not the women we think they should be. Willow is not me.
HB: That’s a really interesting point you bring up. I often tease my mother about being harder on me then she is on my brothers. As a parent of both genders, do your feel yourself being harder one than the other?
JPS: When it comes to mothers and daughters and their sons–there is a different dynamic. I love on Willow as much as I love on Jaden but because she’s a woman and I understand her path, there is a certain guidance that she gets from me that is a little different from Jaden. Thank God for his father. But Will does the same. But that’s why you have mothers and fathers. I raise and love Willow. I keep her by my hip. When she reaches out, I am right there, because there’s just this understanding–a thing about being a woman. Will never says no to Willow–and that was our agreement, don’t ever say no to her, that’s my job! Now with Jaden, I love on Jaden really hard, (and I didn’t take that agreement with will with [me] not telling Jaden no, because as a mother, they’ll try to get over on you), but Will is really the strong force and guidance for him. But depending on what our own personal fears may be we project that on [our children]. Sometimes we project our fears on to our daughters and I had to check myself. Once I removed the fear aspect and started to deal with her as mommy and daughter, and bring my experiences with me with my understanding versus with my fears, the energy is different. The relationship that I have with Willow is pure understanding. The thing I never try to make her feel is guilt. Whenever she makes a mistake, I never want her to feel bad or guilty about it. But I want her to remember how she feels and ask herself, “do you want to feel like that again?” And then I ask her does she want my help to give you guidance on how to feel like again? If she says yes, I say ‘ok, let’s talk about it.’
HB: But those teen years aren’t far away, it might not always be that easy!
JPS: The teen years are coming! I’m telling you all this right now, but I might be telling you something different is three years! But I’ve raised three other teenagers. I learned it from my first girl Tamera, who I raised–we’ve raised three other children. That’s the other thing people don’t know—people think we’ve only had Willow and Jaden, we’ve had Tre, Kyle and Tamera. We’ve had three teenagers to work things out on before these jokers came along. We got a lot of experience. We’ve done this!
HB: So, you mean, you kind of know what you’re doing, huh?
JPS: Yes! And let me tell you, my girl Tamera! The sh*t that she has put me through–she’s on Jada Pinkett level but just gets caught all the time. But, I learned a lot from Tamera–I learned so much from her and she came out on top. So with Willow–between Tamera and thinking about myself–I think what worked? What didn’t work? What strengthened me? What put me in fear? How do I want Willow to live–where do I want her to develop her strengths—and I came up with a formula that works for them both. It’s been working pretty well so far. Willow is my last test, if it works with her I’m gonna write a damn book! But I gotta wait. I gotta wait a few years to make sure it’s full proof.
Stay tuned for the next part of our Best.Jada.Interview.Ever right here at HelloBeautiful. Next week Jada talks about dating will and the agreements they made to make their marriage work.
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