Jada Pinkett-Smith, And Her Mom And Daughter, Get Candid On 'Red Table Talk'

Jan 25, 2019
Originally published on January 25, 2019 8:31 am

Jada Pinkett-Smith has been on a lot of screens.

She's been a steady presence on television since the early '90s: Think A Different World or Gotham. Her movie roles have varied widely: Set It Off, or the Matrix sequels, or Girls Trip. She has produced a new film, Hala, set to premiere this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival.

She's also on the screen of your laptop or smartphone.

Her Facebook Watch series, Red Table Talk, is now more than 20 episodes into its first season. Every week, she and her mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and daughter Willow Smith, sit down for discussions on often complex and emotional topics. This season alone has covered mental health, race relations, addiction, divorce and forgiveness.

"I guess at this point in my life, I've really been doing a lot of interior work," Pinkett-Smith says in an interview. "And I just realized that in part of my growth, the women and the people who had the courage to be very transparent with me with certain aspects of their journey really, really helped my journey tremendously. I was like: Why don't we talk about this more often? Why is it such a secret of what people go through?

"And so I was like: I really want to create conversation where people don't have to feel like they're alone. And whatever pieces individuals can take with them to make whatever changes they might feel is necessary for more happiness, more joy, more peace — I want to be part of that journey."


Interview Highlights

On the open discussions of the show compared to her reputation as a private person

People have a lot of romantic and fantasy ideas around relationships. And considering the powerful journey that [husband Will Smith] and I have been taking together, I really thought it was important to shatter, you know, whatever façade had been out there. Now that I'm older, and with all the work that I've done, I feel like I have the capacity to be more transparent — and luckily enough, so does my family. So just because there are certain things that we talk about on the Red Table doesn't mean that we don't have boundaries. But I don't see the necessity to hold on to knowledge of certain experiences that we've had.

On the disagreements in the episode titled "The Racial Divide: Women of Color & White Women"

Considering the era in which [my mother] grew up, as well, that she had to experience very different things than what Willow and I have had to experience ... The idea that even though Willow hasn't had the same experiences as my mother, that some of her views were pretty similar.

They had this concept as if it was not our responsibility as women of color to educate white women — the idea being that they need to educate themselves. And that's true too. But at the same time, I do believe that we as women of color have to have a certain openness in having conversations to help white women understand our experience.

On the episode "Surviving Loss"

You know, I had literally lost a friend on that tape day. A friend died literally before we started taping that day. And that particular episode, I got to learn, you know, about some struggles that Willow had been going through. So I lost a friend, but I also gained some really deep insight about love and child-rearing, and that was that we can't always be with our children in their darkest moments, but that if we pour as much love as we can into them, that love remains, and that love can help them pull through dark moments. And that's what's important. And at the Red Table, that's what we try to share.

On a topic the show is still trying to figure out

There's a couple topics on infidelity. ... We're looking at different doctors and different specialists to come and talk about infidelity, you know, and how to actually produce it, and who will be willing to come and talk about experiences of infidelity. It's tough, it's tough. And it's sensitive. There's far more complex explanations than sex-crazed men who don't know how to control themselves or blah blah blah blah. So ... I think we have a very interesting perspective about it, and I think that it'll be a fiery show, to say the least.

Sydney Harper and Ashley Brown produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Actor and producer Jada Pinkett Smith is expanding her onscreen presence. From the early '90s in "A Different World"...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "A DIFFERENT WORLD")

JADA PINKETT SMITH: (As Lena) Understand that I'm here just trying to get an education. I'd rather be here than out on the corner doing absolutely nothing ending up with a city job.

MARTIN: ...To the hit comedy "Girl's Trip."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GIRL'S TRIP")

REGINA HALL: (As Ryan) How much did she drink?

PINKETT SMITH: (As Lisa) Why have you forsaken me, baby Jesus?

MARTIN: She's been all over TV and movie screens for decades. Now you can add laptop and smartphone screens to the list. Jada Pinkett Smith is hosting "Red Table Talk" on Facebook Watch with her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, and her daughter, Willow Smith. We should mention Facebook is an NPR underwriter. This season, they've explored complex and emotional topics - mental health, racism, relationships and, yeah, even her own marriage to fellow superstar Will Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RED TABLE TALK")

WILL SMITH: I was much more conscious of public perception than Jada.

PINKETT SMITH: Yeah.

WILL SMITH: Right? There was an idea of...

PINKETT SMITH: I think I was trying to live up to an idea for him.

WILL SMITH: Right.

MARTIN: Jada Pinkett Smith joined me from our studios in New York. And she told me her desire to open up started with the candid conversations she was having with other women in her life.

PINKETT SMITH: I was like, why don't we talk like this more often? Like, why is it such a secret, like (laughter)...

MARTIN: Right.

PINKETT SMITH: ...Of what people go through? And so I was like, I really want to create conversation where people don't have to feel like they're alone. And whatever pieces individuals can take with them to make whatever changes they might feel is necessary for more happiness, more joy, more peace, I want to be part of that journey.

MARTIN: But it does stand in such contrast. There will be many people out there who are like, I thought Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith - they're like these super private people.

PINKETT SMITH: (Laughter) Yeah.

MARTIN: So what was the decision to say, I'm going to put it out for millions of people to see and hear?

PINKETT SMITH: People have a lot of romantic and fantasy ideas around relationships. And, you know, considering the powerful journey that Will and I have been taking together, I really thought it was important to shatter, you know, whatever facade had been out there. And now that I'm older and with all the work that I've done, I feel like I have the capacity to be more transparent and, luckily enough, so is my family.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PINKETT SMITH: So just because there's certain things that we talk about on the "Red Table" doesn't mean that we don't have boundaries. But I don't see the necessity to hold onto knowledge of certain experiences...

MARTIN: Yeah.

PINKETT SMITH: ...That we've had.

MARTIN: We see the different generational perspectives at play in all the episodes. But it was particularly notable the episode with diversity educator Jane Elliot.

PINKETT SMITH: Yeah.

MARTIN: You and your mom talk about growing up in different eras as black women in this country. And the focus was really the dynamic between black women and white women. And your mom had particular views on this. Your mom...

PINKETT SMITH: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: ...Admitted to having her own - as we all do...

PINKETT SMITH: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Her own biases.

PINKETT SMITH: Yup, definitely.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RED TABLE TALK")

ADRIENNE BANFIELD-NORRIS: I remember growing up and not being able to go to downtown and try on hats. And we couldn't go to the bowling alley. And to get ice cream, we couldn't sit at the counter. It still bites.

PINKETT SMITH: She had to experience very different things than what Willow and I have had to experience.

MARTIN: Yeah. What's it like? How - I mean, how old is Willow?

PINKETT SMITH: Willow is 18 now.

MARTIN: She's 18.

PINKETT SMITH: Yeah.

MARTIN: Oh, man.

PINKETT SMITH: (Laughter).

MARTIN: She's a young lady. And she brings her own wisdom.

PINKETT SMITH: She does.

MARTIN: I imagine - you two seem very close anyway. But...

PINKETT SMITH: Yeah.

MARTIN: Have there been things that are said at the "Red Table" where you're like, oh.

PINKETT SMITH: (Laughter).

MARTIN: I did not know that that's where you were at on that.

PINKETT SMITH: The idea that even though Willow hasn't had the same experiences as my mother, that some of her views were pretty similar. They had this concept as if it's not our responsibility as women of color to educate white women - the idea being, well, they need to educate themselves. And that's true, too. But at the same time, I do believe that we, as women of color, have to have a certain openness in having conversations to help white women understand our experience.

MARTIN: Is there a particular episode that was revelatory to you? Is there one that just hit you in your gut, taught you something you didn't know?

PINKETT SMITH: I think that the episode on loss - you know, I had literally lost a friend on that tape day.

MARTIN: A friend died.

PINKETT SMITH: A friend died...

MARTIN: Wow.

PINKETT SMITH: ...Literally before we started taping that day.

MARTIN: Oh, no.

PINKETT SMITH: And on that particular episode, I got to learn, you know, about some struggles Willow had been going through.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RED TABLE TALK")

WILLOW SMITH: Like, it was just so crazy. And I was just like plunged into this, like, black hole. And I was, like, cutting myself.

PINKETT SMITH: What?

WILLOW SMITH: Yeah - and doing crazy things.

PINKETT SMITH: Really? When were you cutting yourself?

WILLOW SMITH: Yeah.

PINKETT SMITH: I didn't see that part.

WILLOW SMITH: Totally lost my sanity for a moment there.

PINKETT SMITH: Wow.

So I lost a friend, but I also gained some really deep insight about love and child rearing. And that was that, you know, we can't always be with our children in their darkest moments but that if we pour as much love as we can into them, that love remains. And that love can help pull them through. And at the "Red Table," that's what we try to share.

MARTIN: Are there some topics you haven't wanted to tackle at the "Red Table?"

PINKETT SMITH: Not necessarily not wanting to tackle but figuring out how to tackle them.

MARTIN: Right. Can you give me an example of one that's been vexing you that you'd like to do?

PINKETT SMITH: There's, you know, like a couple of topics on infidelity. You know, we're looking at different doctors and different specialists to come and talk about infidelity, you know, and how to actually produce it and who would be willing to come and talk about...

MARTIN: Right.

PINKETT SMITH: ...Experiences in infidelity.

MARTIN: Right. That's tough.

PINKETT SMITH: It's tough. It's tough. And it's sensitive. You know, there's far more complex explanations than, you know, men who don't know how to control themselves...

MARTIN: Right.

PINKETT SMITH: ...And blah, blah, blah, blah. So...

MARTIN: I'd listen to that blah, blah, blah, blah.

PINKETT SMITH: Yeah. No, we - I think we have a very interesting perspective about it. And I think that it'll be a fiery show to say the least (laughter).

MARTIN: Jada Pinkett Smith is the creator, one of the hosts of "Red Table Talk" on Facebook Watch. Jada, thank you so much. It was such a pleasure.

PINKETT SMITH: Thank you. This was wonderful. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.