There are few safe spaces in the media for Black women to come together and speak about issues that affect them personally and across the Diaspora. Recognizing the need for explosive and healing dialogue, legendary actress Jada Pinkett Smith, her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris and daughter, Willow Smith, decided they would create such a space for themselves.
In May 2018, the women opened up their lives and home for the profoundly impactful and moving Facebook Watch series, Red Table Talk. Over the course of 10-episodes, the women discussed a wide range of difficult subjects including sex, feuds in Black Hollywood and even addiction. Using their magnetic personalities and bold transparency, the Smiths and Banfield-Norris welcomed millions of viewers and several A-list guests to their red table.
Now, the People’s Choice award-nominated series is launching new episodes. Shadow and Act got the opportunity to speak with Pinkett Smith and Banfield-Norris about their critically acclaimed series and why it has been vital for them to speak their truths.
"It’s been a great opportunity for us to learn and grow together," Banfield-Norris said of the show's impact on her family. For the mother/daughter duo, the most beautiful aspect about this journey is that it has allowed multiple generations of Black women to have in-depth and honest conversations that have been historically stifled or unspoken. "Your mistakes can be eye-opening."
Photo Credit: Facebook Watch/ Stan Evans
Unpacking and reimagining the mother/daughter relationship, which can often grow contentious in the teen and young adult years has also been a powerful experience. “I think that you've gotta have your daughters on your hip, or they're gonna learn in the streets," Pinkett Smith explained. "As a mother, you've already been through a lot, so why should they? Why pretend like you haven't been there? Why pretend like you don't know what it's like to want to sneak out the house and go party? Or, pretend like you don't know what it's like to wanna be with a boy? Or, have sex for the first time or have those urges? Why pretend? It's just fear," she said. "You survived it; she will too."
Mothers have to lay the foundation for their daughters to walk on, said Pinkett Smith. "I believe that as women and as mothers we have to train and teach our girls how to be women. I feel like the more that we do that, breaking that cycle of not talking --the more powerful we can become. We can learn things more quickly. There's a lot of things that me and my mother went through that Willow is not gonna have to go through. A lot of painful stuff."
In the premiere for the second half of Season 1, Will Smith takes a seat at the red table with his wife, mother-in-law, and daughter. In “Becoming Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Part 1 + 2)," the famously private Smiths give audiences a revealing window into their 21-year marriage, which has not been without its bumps and cracks.
"It’s not so much being married to Will Smith as it is just being married to anybody," Pinkett Smith shared about her views toward marriage. “Marriage is hard. All of the expectations, all of the rules and regulations --I don’t got time for all that! For me personally, two people being on the same path at the same time — it's hard," she said. "I don’t know how realistic that is. But, what you can do is support each other on separate paths, and when you can be on the same path together, you do that. You have to allow those ebbs and flows. I think most people are trying to fit inside of a box and inside of a picture and that makes it more difficult."
The Girls Trip actress also believes the inability to allow your partner to grow and change also contributes to dysfunction within marriages. "The most interesting thing is that you don't remain the same," she emphasized. “In a lot of relationships people are trying to hold on to remaining the same, and that's just not realistic. You're trying to hold on to the person that you met the first time. In a relationship, you have to be fluid. You have to be able to go with the flow. People change; things change. I would say that's the realest aspect that I've learned being in a union with Will."
Photo Credit: Facebook Watch/Stan Evans
Though the Smith family has seemingly opened the floodgates and unveiled their most intimate secrets with Red Table Talk, there are still some personal things that the family will never disclose publicly.
"I wouldn't say that there are topics that are off limits but I would say that there's still an aspect of privacy,” the A Different World actress explained. "I know for you guys it seems like, 'Oh my god, it's so revealing!' I'm like, 'Enh...well, we've been living with these truths for a long time.' Maybe there will be new truths that will come about and we'll say, 'Aite, we're gonna hold off on talking about that.' There are still aspects of our lives that are private, but I do believe that it's important to be as honest and as truthful as you feel comfortable with because when I've had difficult moments in my life, hanging in there and putting it on the table was a lifesaver."
Keeping in mind the Black women who could use Red Table Talk as an example to push for vulnerability in their own lives has motivated Pinkett Smith and Banfield-Norris to continue on. "I feel like there's so much power in communicating and sharing your testimony, " Pinkett Smith expressed. "It's such a huge elixir and so helpful. I'm just hoping people will create their own red table -- figuratively and literally."
Still, being so open does have its drawbacks. "You do have to get a level of comfort with where you are and what you're talking about," Banfield-Norris stated. "There is gonna be judgment on it -- trust and believe that. We're a judgemental society, and I knew that was going to be an issue," she said. "I was really fearful about that in the beginning, so you really have to be comfortable in your own skin in order to come out here and reveal yourself like that."
Still, more than anything else, Red Table Talk has allowed the Smith family to heal their wounds together, which has only expanded their love for one another. "There is a very healing component," the Set It Off actress shared. "So much healing. I've had family members who were like, 'After watching the Gabrielle Union episode, I wanted to sit down and talk.' That was the episode where everybody said, ‘We need to sit down and talk and figure this out.' You don't always have to have a fix, just create that space, and have that conversation."
New episodes of Red Table Talk release every Monday at 9:00 a.m. PT / 12:00 p.m. ET.
Aramide A Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or tweet her @wordwitharamide.