It’s not always easy being the child of world-famous celebrities. Take Jaden Smith, son of A-list actor Will Smith. He comes from a whole family of successful people, and he grew up very much in the spotlight. At first, it seemed like he was totally fine with being almost a mini version of his dad. He appeared alongside him in a couple of films and had a promising start in Hollywood. But then, suddenly, his name vanished from the movie posters. It vanished from almost everywhere, except Twitter. What happened?
Jaden Smith was born to Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith on July 8, 1998. He was the second child for Will, who had a son from a previous marriage, and the first for Jada. As he got older, his parents homeschooled him and his sister Willow. And reportedly, Will and Jada had a rather lenient parenting and teaching style.
The pair didn’t believe in disciplining their kids, at least not overly. “We don’t do punishment,” Will told Metro in April 2013. “The way that we deal with our kids is, they are responsible for their lives. Our concept is, as young as possible, give them as much control over their lives as possible.” He believed punishment had “a little too much of a negative quality.”
In 2006, eight-year-old Jaden appeared alongside his father in the film The Pursuit of Happyness, playing the son of his character Chris Gardner. The film was a hit, with Will receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and Jaden winning an MTV Movie Award for Breakthrough Performance.
The sky seemed to be the limit for Jaden after that. In 2008 he appeared in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and although the film received mixed-to-negative reviews, critics did praise ten-year-old Jaden’s performance. Next up was another remake, The Karate Kid, and the same thing happened: mixed reviews but acclaim for Jaden.
And then disaster struck. Jaden teamed up with his father for another movie, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2013 sci-fi flick After Earth. Critics absolutely mauled it, and it was a financial flop too, only making $60 million back on its $130 million budget. A huge name like Will Smith could survive such a thing, but for the less famous Jaden it was all up in the air.
Jaden seemed to retreat to social media after that, in the process gaining a reputation for being a bit offbeat and strange. His trademark was capitalizing the first letter of every word he wrote on Twitter. Although that gained him lots of followers, it didn’t do much for his reputation. And this was never truer than after a rambling interview he and his sister Willow gave to the New York Times in 2014.
Unfortunately, the interview made Jaden come off as something of a privileged rich kid. And one with an inflated ego, to boot. “We don’t think a lot of the music out there is that cool,” he said, referring to himself and his sister. “So we make our own music.” He also didn’t appear to see the point in education. “You never learn anything in school. Think about how many car accidents happen every day. Driver’s ed? What’s up?”
“I have a goal to be just the most craziest person of all time,” Jaden announced in the interview. “And when I say craziest, I mean, like, I want to do like Olympic-level things. I want to be the most durable person on the planet.” But first, it seemed, he would have to deal with being one of the most widely laughed-at people on the planet. The interview met with little else but mockery.
When Sony was hacked later on that year, it came out that movie execs had apparently passed the interview around with a warning about the Smith kids. “Don’t let this family date your movies,” was the message that had allegedly been sent, according to US Weekly. Had the interview been so ridiculous it had actually dented Jaden’s chances with a major film studio?
It certainly seemed like Jaden was done for acting-wise. There had been no more major movie roles for him after After Earth. He embarked on a music career, but he still seemed to be primarily known for being a weird, clueless teen. “Any reasonable parent would be ashamed of Will Smith’s kids,” thundered the New York Post in March 2016.
In July 2016 Jaden made headlines again, but for a different reason. He had appeared in a womenswear clothing campaign for Louis Vuitton dressed in a skirt, and people were curious. Nylon magazine asked why he’d sought to break down gender boundaries in such a way, and his answer was refreshingly straightforward.
“The world is going to keep bashing me for whatever I do, and I’m going to keep not caring,” Jaden said in the magazine’s August 2016 issue. He wanted, he explained, to “take most of the blows” for people who didn’t fit in. “So, you know, in five years when a kid goes to school wearing a skirt, he won’t get beat up and kids won’t get mad at him.”
“I’m taking the brunt of it so that later on, my kids and the next generations of kids will all think that certain things are normal that weren’t expected before my time,” Jaden said. It was a noble gesture, and one that met with some praise from the media. He was dubbed a “non-conforming hero.” That August, GQ considered that Jaden had “the potential to warp the measures of status for the better.”
In December 2016 Will Smith spoke to BET about his son’s fashion choices. “I don’t give parenting advice per se, because it’s such a unique task. The greatest human task is to render a human being into the world,” he said. “Jada and I are very serious about finding what they are, and encouraging them to be what they are because you can never be happy being what you’re not.”
Jaden certainly seemed to be happy, no matter what he was doing. And he did start acting again, albeit not in the Hollywood blockbusters he’d started out in. In 2017 he began starring in the Baz Luhrmann-created Netflix show The Get Down, which was one of the most expensive shows the platform had produced at that point.
Unfortunately for Jaden, The Get Down didn’t work out either. After just 11 episodes – and just after Jaden had bought himself a new house – the show was canceled. It was costing too much money for the reviews it was getting, and Luhrmann wanted out. Fans lobbied to try and save it, as did Jaden on his Twitter, but it was all to no avail.
Jaden did have another show to dedicate his time to – the demon-hunting-themed anime Neo Yokio, created by none other than Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. The character Jaden voiced was obviously based on him, but unfortunately for many people that was a minus rather than a plus. “Neo Yokio is a bad, attempted homage to Jaden Smith’s strange Twitter persona,” wrote Polygon in 2017.
It’s unknown if Neo Yokio will get a second series. But Jaden actually does have a couple of starring movie roles coming up in 2018, his first ones since After Earth. One of these is cancer drama Life in a Year, in which he’ll star alongside Cara Delevingne. The other is a skateboarding film directed by Crystal Moselle, which wrapped principal photography in 2017.
But Jaden’s Twitter also remains as popular as it’s ever been. As of March 2018, he has 7.58 million followers. And that month he tweeted out in his trademark writing style, “If I Wanna Wear A Dress, Then I Will, And That Will Set The New Wave.” No matter what he does next in his career, there’s no doubt that he’ll be coming into it with confidence.