Jada Pinkett Smith accepted the Trailblazer Award at the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards, but she is well aware that she wasn’t blazing trails on her own. In the latest episode of “Personal Space,” Pinkett Smith welcomed MTV News correspondent Josh Horowitz into her home to reflect on her groundbreaking career, how she’s giving back, and what she’s learning from younger generations.
“I knew that I was gonna create something different for myself than where I grew up and how I grew up, but this definitely exceeded my vision,” Pinkett Smith said, recalling the range of environments she found herself in as a child in Baltimore, from her grandmother’s Black middle class neighborhood, to her home with her single mom “in the trenches,” mixed in with her art school education. Finding herself among the adversity was crucial to her journey. “It was a lot of different worlds that I had to learn to navigate, and so you really have to know who you are in order to navigate all those different worlds successfully.”
It wasn’t always easy — “Some of the stuff I was confronted with as a teenager, I should not be here now,” she said — but fortunately, she had some people on her side. Her teachers at Baltimore School for the Arts “who kept reminding me that there was more that I could have for my life than the streets,” and her mother, who “really, out of anybody, just believed that I could do what I’m doing right now,” were instrumental in setting her on her path.
And when she got to where she was going, it was Tupac who lifted her up enough to reach her first big break with Menace II Society. The late rapper introduced her to directors Allen and Albert Hughes and absolutely insisted she take the role she was offered, even after he had a falling out with the filmmakers. “I was like, ‘Well, if you’re not doing it, I’m not doing it,’ and he’s like, ‘Nope. Not playing that game. You need to do this film,’” she remembered.
From there, one opportunity led to another, and piece by piece, Pinkett Smith built herself the kind of life that allowed her to push boundaries. Most recently, she’s done that with her wildly successful Facebook Watch series, Red Table Talk, in which she sits around a red table and talks to her mom, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, her daughter, Willow, and a rotating cast of guests about what’s really going on. “When people have been really courageous enough to tell me the real — the real — story, what it’s done for my life; some of those stories helped me save my relationship with Will, some of those stories prevented me from making some of the biggest mistakes with my children,” she said. “That’s what life’s about, us being able to gift each other in that way through our experiences. So if I can help your experience be a little less of a struggle than mine, why not?”
But she’s not just here to give — she’s also here to learn. Especially from her step-son Trey, son Jaden, and Willow, who help teach her “what needs to be important” to us as people in society and on Earth. “Willow, Jaden, and Trey are very sensitive to what is happening to our planet and what is happening as far as our educational system, jail systems,” she said. “They keep me up to speed of a more modern understanding of social issues and how to reach people in a modern way.”
Her willingness to hear what younger generations are saying is what allows Pinkett Smith to continue to be the trailblazing force she is. She knows that she alone doesn’t have all the answers, and so she combines her expertise with that of others in order to clear the path ahead.
For more from Pinkett Smith, watch the full interview above.