Actress, wife, mother, activist, rock star.
ALLISON SAMUELS discovers the passion behind this superstar’s career moves, philanthropy, family life and her latest role—singing in a hard rock band
Jada Pinkett Smith is full of surprises. On a particularly chilly Saturday afternoon in a particularly run-down part of Seattle, the petite actress, mother of two, stepmother of one, and wife of superstar Will Smith is onstage having the time of her life. No—she’s not hosting another star-studded awards show à la BET as she did last year with her hubby. Nor is she acting out a character to add to her already impressive film résumé. Today Mrs. Smith is front and center at a tiny nightclub filled with about 200 people, belting out a hard-core, heavy-metal song at the top of her lungs. Yes, you read right. Hard-core, heavy-metal.
As she works the mic and her inner Gene Simmons (complete with elongated tongue action), it’s pretty jarring to watch the crowd of mostly young White men and women nod their heads approvingly to the ear-blistering beats of her band, Wicked Wisdom. These are the children of grunge and Kurt Cobain, and they can’t take their eyes off the caramel-tinged Smith as she stomps across the stage. The shockingly deep and moody texture of her voice floats above the gnarly sounds of amplifiers, electric guitars and drums. But despite the heavy macho scene, Smith, sans makeup and the usual red-carpet wardrobe, possesses a glow that is clearly the result of having the freedom to do something she truly loves.
“In Hollywood I really had to calm down that more aggressive aspect of myself, that darker side of me,’’ says the actress, who admits that she likes to walk and talk hard in an industry that doesn’t take well to women, particularly Black women, asserting their power. “I tried to kill that part of myself, but I realized that in trying to do that, I was losing me,” she says. “You can’t have light without dark. We all have that dark place inside us, and we all have to deal with it to feel whole.”
THE LIGHT INSIDE
The pressure of keeping her aggressive side neatly tucked away for appearances’ sake only intensified Smith’s desire to vent. Her world was changing in ways she could no longer stay quiet about, which meant finding her voice became a priority.
“I’m a lot of things,” she says. “We all are as women. And if I’m not allowed to be all those things, I lose that vibrancy and that light that make me beautiful. That’s what I love about heavy metal. I’m able to talk about things that are painful, talk about things that are frustrating, and then I leave it on the stage. Most of us implode—we do drugs, we take it out on our kids, and we destroy our marriages because we don’t have that outlet. I can’t tell you how much stuff I’m working through on that stage.”
Her two children, Jaden, 7, and Willow, 5, frequently join Smith and the group on the road. They love that their mom is in a traveling band, especially Willow. “My baby girl wants to start her own group now,” Smith says. “The other day she told me that her band was going to be better than mine. I told her that’s the way it should be.”
But despite a lucrative career, a husband who’s a Hollywood power player and beautiful children, Smith still isn’t satisfied. She wants to do so much more in the world. “I can remember being at a red-carpet event one day after reading about a little girl who was raped and discarded like trash on the side of the road,’’ she says, her eyes welling with tears at the memory. “She was about 6, a baby. I was so enraged about what happened to that child, but I couldn’t show it. It’s all smiles in my world when you’re at those things, and sometimes there isn’t anything to smile about.’’