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Jada Pinkett Smith and her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, hosted a private luncheon Thursday for the first of their “Red Table Talk” series at the rooftop of The Jeremy Hotel.
Beginning May 7, anyone with a Facebook account will be able to log on to Facebook Watch and join their virtual table every Monday, where they’ll be joined by Pinkett Smith’s daughter, Willow Smith, for a series of candid conversations uniting the perspectives of three generations of women.
“We just wanted to create a safe space,” Pinkett Smith told The Hollywood Reporter of “Red Table Talk,” her family’s desire to provide a forum for the perspective of three distinctly different generations, especially during a cultural moment when women’s issues are being discussed and explored from fresh viewpoints. “Times are changing so fast, a lot of beliefs that we have built foundations upon are changing and deteriorating, and we’re having to replace them with new thoughts, new ideas, new beliefs, regarding how the world is changing.”
“Now, as women, it seems as though we’re having more freedoms now more than ever, and it’s like, ‘What do we do with them?’” she continued. “To just create a safe space at the red table where we really can have real, raw, unfiltered conversations about what’s changing, and how those changes are affecting us and the process that we’re going through in order to deal with those changes.”
Pinkett Smith revealed that she recently experienced “a year of healing” that paralleled the emergence of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and the seismic cultural upheaval they engendered. “It’s been the year of growth for me, and I’ve really been using this as the opportunity to be more vulnerable, be more open, put down the mask and so regarding things that hurt — my difficulties, my obstacles — and just how healing it has been to be able to share those things.”
“When Jada asked me about doing the project, I was like, ‘Sure!’” says her mother, Banfield-Norris, a longtime nurse. “I don’t think I had any preconceived ideas or expectations of what it was gonna be. Listening to Jada talk about that, it was a year of growth for her, I took advantage of that and just thought, ‘What is it about me that I would like to grow through in my own personal journey? I’m taking this experience to try to help myself with things like my own personal self-confidence, not caring so much what other people think about me.”
Mother and daughter admit they marvel at the level of personal confidence exhibited by Willow and other young women of her generation. “What’s been most enlightening for me is just really seeing the level of self-confidence that Willow has and how she navigates the world,” said Pinkett Smith. “That’s really been amazing for me because it’s just so different from my own life experiences, especially at her age.… She just has this bulletproof confidence. She doesn’t care. It’s kinda like my mother’s on one extreme, Willow’s on another extreme, and I’m in the middle, where I’m a little of both.”
“I’m learning that what other people think about me is none of my business!” said Banfield-Norris of the example she saw in her granddaughter. “It’s recognizing that some of the old-school ways obviously don’t work. You gotta be willing to be open to some new ideas.”
Even without the entertainment bona fides of her kin, Banfield-Norris impressed her daughter with her on-camera charisma. “She is freaking hilarious!” said Pinkett Smith. “She has such a great sense of humor, and I didn’t know that.”
Pinkett Smith revealed that they weren’t afraid to crack open some difficult subjects for her entire family, which of course includes her husband, Will Smith. “The first episode is with Will’s ex-wife Sheree, where we talk about 23 years of co-mothering, and the journey that my mother and Willow had taken on that with me, and our relationship and what we’ve been through, and our mother-daughter relationship and then Willow and I,” she said. “It’s really just brought us three together, and just other aspects of my relationships and my life. It’s just been so healing, and I wasn’t expecting that part necessarily.”
In another episode, she and actress Gabrielle Union resolve nearly two decades of estrangement, discovering neither of them remember the exact reason for their rift.
And sometimes, the three have different comfort levels depending on the subject. “It was still a little awkward, the sex topics,” nodded Banfield-Norris. “Particularly the one we talked about, I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is something that Willow actually wants to participate in.’ It turns out that she didn’t [mind], but the idea of talking about that, all three of us together, was a little offputting for me initially.”
“Not for me, because I’m always talking to Willow about sex,” said Pinkett Smith.
“That’s how it should be, though,” her mother nodded. “That’s how it should be.”
“It is in the boldest letters that anybody, flashing, neon, red letters, shocking to me how open they are,” said the series’ executive producer Ellen Rakieten, who comes with two 23 years of experience from The Oprah Winfrey Show. “Being open like that helps other people be open. If they’re willing to be that open and put themselves out there, because we live in a world of people who are lovers and some who are not lovers. They don’t care. They are so OK with it. There’s things that come up and come out on this show, forget the fact that they’re one of the most famous families in the world, that I don’t think people never talk about at home, ever.”
Beginning on May 9, the trio will make weekly Wednesday appearances on Facebook Live to interact with the social media audience, and they’re looking forward to opening up conversations among generations everywhere.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to go to Facebook was because I started these conversations years ago with my Facebook family,” said Pinkett Smith. “I found it really healing for me and my Facebook family, because we would be in a discourse about discussions all the time about different concepts about life. I thought Facebook was the perfect place to create that conversation.”
“The hope, without sounding sappy, is the reason to do it on Facebook Watch is because that’s that concept: You’re going to get people talking and then they can comment and they can share and it does become a conversation instead of living in this isolated space,” said Rakieten. “Jada has this great mind and she says, ‘I don’t care how rich, how famous, how many followers, everybody is in pain, in some kind of pain.’ It makes me teary because it’s true. My genuine hope is that this opens up conversations or makes you realize that it’s all gonna be OK. It’s all gonna be OK, and that’s such a comforting feeling.”
“I’m looking forward to people having permission to do the same in their own lives and create their own red table for themselves, for their families, with their relationships,” Pinkett Smith added. “I feel like we’re all so afraid to really say what’s really going on with us. To really create that place where you can take off your mask, and whatever persona you created on Instagram or Facebook you can just put it on the table and just leave it. Take it off and leave it to the side for 20 minutes. I’m just hoping that it will give people permission to just be real.”
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