The fascination with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith makes sense. She doesn’t wear a wedding ring. She candidly speaks of their “open” relationship. And sleazy tabloid stories occasionally ooze with slimy “sources” sadly whispering of impending doom for the duo. Paparazzi and reporters have gotten so thirsty for dirt that before an interview with Jada promoting her must-see film (for all ladies who like to see a man strip)—Magic Mike XXL—publicists send email reminders to press: “As a reminder, please no personal questions about her children or family, and no jokes about stripping as she supports charities tied to human trafficking.”
The problem is that speaking to a sister like Jada Pinkett Smith is like talking to an intellectual girlfriend. Clearly conscious, proud to be Black, and outspoken in enunciating publicly on everything from race and Hillary Clinton to the Baltimore riots. The down-to-Earth comfort of her vibe makes it difficult to not, at some point, naturally discuss topics women like to share, such as men and love.
As a Black woman, I enjoyed seeing Will introduce you at Black Girls Rock and talk about his fear of losing you and then the two of you kissed, I say. We need to see that as Black people. We need to see Black love.
“That’s so funny you say that. Because that was one of the reasons. You know, sometimes I’m very leery,” she says huffing. “I’m like, ‘Last thing people want to see is the Smiths doing something else together.’ Even I get sick of it like, ‘Aaaah!’ ” Jada screams with a laugh.
“But I really did feel like that too. I felt like it was important that we all, young and old people alike, see that Black love is alive and strong. No matter what people try to say, you can’t fake the funk when it’s right there in your face. You can’t fake it. So I felt like that was an important component. And so did he. I said, ‘I think this is one of those moments we can put aside the ‘Oh God, here go the Smiths again.’ ”
A solid, respected career, pretty babies, and a long, 18-year marriage to an equally successful, wealthy, handsome man who’s unafraid to provide passionate displays of attention in public. Imagine if all women could have all of that.
“Let me tell you something,” she retorts. “First of all it’s a journey. I think we as women have to get out of thinking that we have to find someone that can make us feel the way we haven’t learned how to feel about ourselves yet. That we cannot depend on a man to buoy us up to be loved in a way in which we’re not willing to love ourselves,” says Jada, dropping knowledge.
“And I know it sounds cliché,” she continues. “But in the deepest moments when I felt the deepest love for my partner is when I was in the deepest love within myself and with myself. I just realized it is my responsibility to love me. And it is his responsibility simply to support it. But he cannot love me enough to replace it. And I think we might come across really great men that we don’t recognize because we are asking for the impossible. Which is, ‘Please love me more than I’m willing to love myself.’ It doesn’t work.”
It took 43 years for Jada to make it to this point. Like many, there was something about hitting that fourth decade of life that finally made things click.
“At twentysomething, you think you’re being your real authentic self,” she says. “That has always been kind of an idea of mine, to just stay true to oneself. I’ve always taken pride in that. But as I got older, I’ve learned all the different layers of myself that may not have been as true as I thought,” she admits with a giggle.
“So in my 20s, I went through one stage and had to get rid of that. And in my 30s, I had to identify what family and marriage was all about, really having to learn for myself what that meant and just having the courage to live that thing. And now in my 40s, just having a deeper understanding of what beauty is and what being a woman is about and what being a mother is about and a wife. And just having ideas from my experience vs. from what people have told me.”
Note that she stresses that word, “experience.”
“Because I think what it takes is us having the time to experience things,” Jada explains. “What I realized is, instead of looking on the outside, it was really about looking at myself. And then you just start to peel back and get rid of those inauthentic things that are still there. I would really have to say throughout my life, that’s been kind of a journey. But I think in regards to Jada as a whole verses pieces of Jada, Jada as a whole really in my opinion came to a culmination at 40.”
2015 marks 25 years that Jada Pinkett Smith has been in the business. With a career dating back to her very first credit in 1990 on FOX TV’s True Colors, she became a Black cult classic leading lady—from Menace II Society and The Inkwell to Jason’s Lyric, A Low down Dirty Shame, The Nutty Professor and Set It Off. When you watch her in Magic Mike XXL, she slowly slinks sexy steps across her mansion; instructs buff Black men on her payroll to do what she pleases; then galvanizes a room full of happy sisters to enjoy the power and pleasure of throwing dollar bills at boxers and briefs.
It’s a beautiful thing. A feminist thing. Or in Jada’s preferred self-identifying case, a womanist thing.
“It’s an idea that Alice Walker actually coined,” Jada schools. “It’s an idea giving women of color a platform in which to really explore and execute their ideas of empowerment. But it also includes men. That was important,” she points out. “Sometimes feminism can kind of give the idea of excluding women of color and men. Feminism or the feminist movement can be seen as just for White women because of how it was created and its history. But it all really is the same thing. We’re all women, all dealing with the same problems. So it’s really just about us learning how to co-exist amongst one another, and always finding ways to empower each other.”
Raqiyah Mays is an author, journalist, radio personality, and activist. Her debut novel, The Man Curse, will be released by Simon & Schuster in November 2015.