Telling empowering stories, South Africans want to hear

Friday, 08 December 2023 22:31

Actress and TV host Jada Pinkett Smith on new memoir 'Worthy'.

By Jacob Mawela.


"Aight, Pac . . . kiss me, then," a girl, a student at the Baltimore School for the Arts in her early teens dared a fellow alum, a 15-year-old boy. Sans ado he obliged her and immediately recoiled, exclaiming, "what the f - - k!"

Rewind to the following scene prior to the dare: "Hi, I'm Tupac," the boy, new at the BSA, boldly introduced himself to the girl upon approaching her. "I'm Jada, nice to meet you Tupac," she responded politely.

Thereafter, allow your imagination to wander to this sequel of intermittent exchanges – by way of intros – betwixt the self-same lass and a television sitcom star: "What's up?" he enquired, to which she responded, "What's up?" whilst she proceeded to avoid him. Next occurred this response from her upon him proposing she play the role of his girlfriend in the aforementioned sitcom: "Thank you for flying all the way here, but I don't want to do TV right now." Pending a phone call the actor made to the girl some other time after, she answered, "My mom doesn't think I should be talking to you, since you are married, and she said you shouldn't call me anymore."Respectfully leaving it at that for almost a whole year, one time out of the blue, the seemingly persistent thespian ventured once again to phone the girl, straightforwardly posing: "You seeing anybody?" Upon her responding in the negative, he proceeded to declare: "Good, you seeing me now."

The above scenarios played out betwixt the two prominent men in actress-musician-talk show hostess-activist Jada Pinkett Smith's life, viz, Tupac Shakur and Willard Smith II (a.k.a. "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"). The former, she nurtured a platonic relationship with {once the dare at a smooch resulted in the pair realizing their connection wasn’t of a romantic nature) for a longtime until his untimely death, whilst the latter – a Hollywood leading man – she eventually relented to and culminated marrying!

The progeny of drug addicted parents (her nurse mom, Adrienne had been an on-off-on user, whilst dad, Robsol ultimately succumbed to an overdose) Pinkett Smith grew up in Baltimore, a city which in the 80s contained a dangerous section where mid-teenagers, boys and girls, were – in comparison to the rest of the United States – most likely to be murdered by their peers! Raised by her beloved maternal grandmother, Marion Banfield, her childhood was cocooned from the harshness of the external environment through time spent in the elder’s fantasy-esque backyard garden featuring hide-and-seek spots amidst bounty of fruit, veggies, and bunnies hopping about a strawberry patch – within which she was guided through life's initial lessons

Yet, once without granny's magical bubble, she had to contend with the reality of school bullies and much later whilst navigating adolescence, she was to entangle herself in the drug peddling hustle – an occupation which would result in her experiencing brushes with death (one incident had a neighbourhood troublemaker once barging into her dealer spot under pretext along with his gun-toting accomplices who menacingly pointed their weapons in her face and in the process took off with all of her stock, takings and jewelry.) The irony of it all was that as much as her parents' habit adversely affected her development – the future Hollywood actress was simultaneously part of her society's malady through her illicit activity.

Her passage from BSA to Hollywood was in no minute bit thanks to renown dancer-choreographer-singer-director-producer Debbie Allen (she of FAME-fame), who presented her with her breakthrough by creating a special role for her in the TV series, A Different World. It was the spring
of 1991 as a newbie seeking opportunities in Los Angeles – in the aftermath of having been rejected by the prestigious Juilliard School and having spent a year refining her craft in Winston-Salem at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Her dream-chasing mission in LA was bang on time because Pinkett (she was yet to be betrothed to Will Smith around this period) describes the period as "the Golden Years of Black Hollywood" – a timespan pending which a proliferation of untapped Black actors such as Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Nia Long, Regina King, et cetera, streamed into the industry. Allen's involvement (she had to negotiate for her to diversify into the movie realm whilst still contracted to the television medium) it was too which led to Pinkett's first mainstream film break when she got cast in the female lead role in Jason's Lyric.
Mentioning Jason’s Lyric, the movie became a subject of a moment of blush when, whilst courting Smith – the actor played it for his grandmother in Pinkett's presence. Featuring the actress in a nude sex scene – it left Will's granny shaking her head and Jada mortified!

A chapter titled Loss Unmourned deals with the death of three figures close to the actress (who mentioned she admired Denzel Washington's performance in Cry Freedom so much that she named her black-&-white furred cat, Biko, after the South African activist), viz, Tupac, N.W.A.'s Eazy-E (from full-blown AIDS) and Maxine (a Canadian makeover artist who had transformed her hairstyle on the set of Jason's Lyric – committed suicide.) Her acquaintanceship with the Straight Outta Compton hitmaker had commenced on an uneasy footing when she objected to misogyny in rap during a BET on-air talk in which he participated. A poem her dad penned and once recited to her starts and concludes with the line: Nobody gets out of life alive.

A segment delving into Pinkett Smith's experience of motherhood relates how she felt compelled to intervene when she saw her son, Jaden in pain, during training for his role in Karate Kid, when a trained pushed him hard to execute splits!

At the tome's tail end, a segment delves into her experience of the bizarre incident involving her then estranged husband Will, slapping comedian, Chris Rock on his face, on the evening of the Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 27, 2022.

Masterly authored by Pinkett Smith herself and published by 4th Estate, the 406-page trade paperback is made available in South Africa through Jonathan Ball Publishers and retails at reputable bookstores countrywide.