The most polarising figure in Hollywood right now has to be actress, author, and entrepreneur Jada Pinkett Smith.
Over the last two weeks, while promoting her memoir Worthy, this multi-hyphenate has been dropping a series of explosive home truths, including how she has been separated from her Oscar-winning husband Will Smith since 2016. Her controversial lifestyle and attempts at “romantic uncoupling” with Smith have been heavily debated, discussed, lauded, and even dissed.
So when Gulf News got the opportunity to speak to Pinkett Smith over a Zoom call from Los Angeles, before her UAE visit next month, we asked if the infamous 2022 Oscar slap had altered her life. Smith was given a 10-year Oscar ban for slapping Chris Rock after the comic made a joke about Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. The ban overshadowed Smith’s Best Actor win.
“So when the incident at the Oscars occurred, I was like: ‘Oh boy, this is going to be tough’. I might not have walked in here as his wife, but I am leaving here as his wife because I am going to be by his side during the storm that’s about to come upon us,” said Pinkett Smith.
Slapgate, a catalyst
The actress, 52, claims the Oscars incident was a “catalyst” in bringing the two closer.
“I went [to the Oscars] as a family member because we were not together at that time … But it somehow became a catalyst. Once Will finished 'Emancipation', it was a very, very, very challenging movie for him. He wanted to get back into therapy. And so I went back into therapy with him. We were working through a lot of deep stuff.”
She claims it was Smith who nudged her to be by his side on his career’s most significant night, and she was happy to be there.
“When he got nominated, he was like: “you are the person that I want by my side’ and I wanted to share that moment with him too … But from then on, we really just started doing really deep work together. … The thing about it is that Will and I spent these years of separation, trying to uncouple consciously, only to then reunite after the Oscars.”
After meeting in the early 1990s, the couple married in 1997 in Pinkett Smith’s hometown of Baltimore in Maryland, and have two children.
A beautiful phase
Apparently, the 2022 Oscars ceremony and the seven years of separation from her husband helped her figure things out. “I am so glad that I took that long time — six or seven years — to figure out that this was us. We are in this together … I saved myself a lot of heartache of getting divorced and going through a legal separation … We need to go on our separate journey and then decide we were going to come together and heal together in a partnership. This phase between us has been beautiful.”
But isn’t she worried about being judged? Her admission to having an unconventional partnership with Smith made her tabloid fodder for several weeks, and her tell-all memoir Worthy is likely to amplify that vulnerability. But Pinkett Smith wants to set the right example.
“It’s part of my 'Worthy' journey. It’s about really being in my truth. Sometimes, it’s difficult for women to do that, fearing the judgment and the criticism. But I have gone through the gauntlet of that and have really cured a lot of my self-judgment,” she points out. She reminds women that they have a right to their own journey that feels authentic and comfortable for them.
"There’s not one way to do it," she added.
And for her that path came in the form of writing 'Worthy', also a much-needed exercise to provide “context and history” to her life choices.
“I get to immerse people into my story to really get the nuanced understanding of my journey … But even though the book is a lot of openness, there’s a lot of censorship too.”
She claims she hasn’t given the whole farm away and there are still facets of her life that she hasn’t revealed.
“There will be a sequel to this … Hopefully, it will be a sequel that Will and I will write together called Don’t Try This At Home,” she said with an open laugh.
While her joy is evident, you never understand if she’s joking or serious. She seems to be on a mission to educate, shock, or do both. She’s also on a path to shatter stereotypes on what a normal marriage looks like. She wonders: who made the rules that married couples cannot stay apart to make their relationship work?
“When it comes to relationships, I tell people all the time to stop looking to have your relationship look like somebody else’s. Because at the end of the day, you have two unique individuals that have come together and they are going to create a unique dynamic between them. It’s between those two people to figure out what that looks like … Today it’s working for me to live in a separate house than [with] your husband.”
She also urges all modern-day couples to get out of the prism of what’s expected from society.
Was she always so self-assured and aware of her self-worth? “It was really just a lot of therapy,” she said with that open laugh again.
Learning to love herself and her choices didn’t come easy.
“Back then, I never understood when people would say love is a choice. I was like: ‘nah, love happens.’ But when I realised that we have to make a choice to love ourselves, it made a huge difference. I talk about loving yourself in my book.”
She has also gone into dark phases in her life in her memoir. The memoir opens with a woman contemplating self-harm by driving off Mulholland drive. It also captures her childhood in which her mother battles heroin addiction and her deep love for grandmother. Her book is about honouring every aspect of her life: good, the bad, and the ugly.
“I speak about dealing with those dark, self-hatred spaces within myself ... I went into plant therapy ... From that moment on, I made a choice to love myself … Instead of needing Will to love me in a way that would heal my self-hatred.”
When she realised that her husband or any man couldn’t assuage that self-hatred, she was in a better space. Realising that you can expect your life partner to make you happy or take you off dark places was a good start.
“It took me a long time, but when I made the choice that I wanted to love myself, the universe kept opening doors to show me how to do it.”
Jada Pinkett Smith will bring her world tour ‘Worthy: A Journey with Jada Pinkett Smith’ to Dubai on November 7 at the Coca-Cola Arena. This will be her second stop in the UAE after appearing in Abu Dhabi, the day before, to host a conversation inspired by her Emmy Award-Winning talk show ‘Red Table Talk’ with women entrepreneurs from the UAE capital. The Abu Dhabi event will target female entrepreneurs with appearances from Souad Al Serkal and Maven Global Access founder Sarah Omolewu.