When Jada Pinkett Smith first admitted to her extramarital entanglement with singer August Alsina, I wondered what price she would pay. Legions of famous men have come clean about their dalliances for decades now and they’ve been able to move past those indiscretions relatively unscathed. But the rules are different for women, especially Black ones.
I knew that despite Will’s decision to “stick beside her,” Jada’s reputation in the public eye was going to suffer. Last year, I wondered how steep the cost would be. Today, I know it’s the public’s commitment to misinterpreting her words.
In the latest episode of Red Table Talk, Jada and her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris (aka Gammy), sit down with Gwyneth Paltrow to discuss her new Netflix series, Sex, Love & Goop. During the conversation, Paltrow spoke about the shame women carry in our sex lives, which often manifests in an inability to speak openly and honestly with their partners about what they do and don’t like sexually.
When the conversation shifted to marriage, Paltrow referred to herself as a newlywed after marrying television writer Brad Falchuk in 2018. Gammy chimed in, stating she’s been married five years, and then Jada said, “Me on the other hand, down and and dirty in it 26 [years.]” As Paltrow congratulated Pinkett Smith on the milestone, Jada offered up the quote that everyone from the casual tweeter to major news outlets are taking out of context.
Speaking about marriage and accountability—not sex—Pinkettt Smith said, “It’s hard. What Will and I talk about a lot is the journey. We started in this at a very young age, 22 years old. That’s why that accountability part really hit for me. Because I think you expect your partner to know.”
Then Jada shifted back to the sex conversation. “Especially when it comes to sex. It’s like if you love me, you should know. You should be able to read my mind.”
Paltrow asked Pinkett Smith if she practiced accountability and expressing her needs in her marriage. Jada said, “I really try. It’s uncomfortable but it’s deeply healthy.”
If you listen to the conversation, it’s clear Pinkett Smith is switching between talking about marriage as a whole and sex specifically. Most of the time, she’s not even speaking personally but of women generally. Yet numerous headlines have skewed her words. One read, “Jada Pinkett Smith Says She & Husband Will Smith Don’t Talk A Lot About Sex: It’s Uncomfortable.”Another: “Jada Pinkett Smith Tells Gwyneth Paltrow Why It’s Hard to Maintain a Sex Life With Will Smith” But the media doesn’t need to put a battery in the backs of the public when we’re socially conditioned to defend men.
Folks online are calling for Will Smith to be freed from his marriage, painting him as this unwitting victim in their union. And, of course, the name of Tupac Shakur has been evoked. As much as Black folk claim they want the dead to rest, they sure don’t have a problem weaponizing the late rapper against his friend.
Never does the public consider that perhaps Will doesn’t need saving. In his interview with GQ, he explicitly states that Jada was not the only one who engaged in other sexual relationships. And while that tidbit made a few headlines, no one put on a cape to defend Jada’s honor or ask that she be set free. A man having sex with other women is commonplace, old hat, no need to be alarmed.
It’s fascinating how quickly things change. For decades, despite persistent rumors of non-monogamy and a looming divorce, Will and Jada were the first “relationship goals.” They were the epitome of Black love. Their marriage was iconized in song lyrics, rap and R&B alike. Now, people are suggesting that a couple who has been married for nearly three decades and found a way to make it work—through some tumultuous trial and error—call it quits.
For years, the Smiths have largely ignored much of the public discourse regarding their marriage. But after yesterday, Jada had to come forward to set the record straight.
“Only because I got time today,” Jada tweeted. “Stop making up headlines. Watch the @RedTableTalk I did with @GwynethPaltrow for yourselves. Will and I have NEVER had an issue in the bedroom. Thank you <3”
As nosy as I am, you’ll never hear me advise that we stay out of people’s business. It’s just unrealistic. But if we’re going to offer up opinions and assertions about folks’ marriages and sex lives, the least we can do is get the facts straight.