Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s two children, Willow and Jaden, have followed their parents into the limelight. But now daughter Willow has opened up about the impact that decision had on her relationship with her mom and dad. And the teenager admitted that it took a long time for her to absolve her father.
As the song tells us, Willard Carroll Smith Jr. was “born and raised” in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And when the time came, Will opted not to attend college in order to focus on a career in rap music. So in 1985 he formed a hip-hop duo with Jeffrey Townes, a friend with whom he had grown up.
Together, they were known as The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Will served as the frontman and rapper, while Townes produced their music and worked on the turntables. The pair released their first album, Rock the House, in 1987.
And two years later, Will and Townes won their first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance. This success came coupled with great financial gain – though Will had a difficult time managing his money. In fact, in 1990 his free-spending ways saw him facing bankruptcy. Fortunately for him, then, that’s when he landed his own television show. Yes, NBC created The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for the star, and it premiered that same year.
The sitcom follows a streetwise teenager – called Will – from Philadelphia who lives with his well-off aunt and uncle to keep him out of trouble. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air subsequently ran until 1996 and launched Will’s acting career. He continued to make records with Townes, however, including their 1991 Grammy-winning song, “Summertime.”
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air then became the platform Will needed to launch a movie career. So following the release in 1995 of Bad Boys, he gained more widespread fame thanks to Independence Day and the comedy sci-fi hit Men in Black. The title track for Men in Black also allowed the star to win his third Grammy Award.
It seems that all this success was part of Will’s plan too. When he was first on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, you see, Will decided that he wanted to become “the biggest movie star in the world,” he told Time in 2007. So he observed other successful actors to see what they had in common. And unsurprisingly he has, over the years, developed a reputation for being a workaholic.
“Oh, God yes, an obsessive perfectionist,” Will told The Hollywood Reporter in 2006. “When I’m not working on acting in a film, I’m writing a script.” The actor and rapper has also admitted that he rarely takes a vacation.
Talking to website Female First in 2008, Will revealed, “I can’t get comfortable if I’m not working. I literally have ten days of holiday a year.” So aside from those ten days, the star is apparently working on his various projects.
This shows in his filmography. Along with sequels to Bad Boys and Men in Black, for instance, Will has appeared as the leading man in several other major drama and action movies. These include I Am Legend, Hitch and Suicide Squad, to name but a few.
Will’s had his fair share of critical success along the way too. He’s even been in the running to win the Best Actor Oscar twice. The first Academy Award nomination came for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali in Ali, and he earned his second for his starring role in The Pursuit of Happyness. More recently, Will won a Golden Globe nomination for the movie Concussion.
Members of Will’s family have also achieved their own successes in the world of entertainment. The actor first got married to Sheree Zampino in 1992, and they welcomed son Willard Carroll Smith III – a.k.a. Trey – in November of that year. Trey has since appeared on the show All of Us and featured in the music video for Will’s 1998 song “Just the Two of Us.”
But in 1995 the couple went their separate ways. And two years later, Will tied the knot with Jada Pinkett Smith – to whom he has been married ever since. Jada is an actress as well and was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 18, 1971. She got her big break in 1996 with The Nutty Professor.
Since then, Jada has starred in movies such as Bad Moms and Girls Trip as well as the two sequels to The Matrix. She also appeared opposite her husband in Ali. Yet Jada is not the only member of the family to act alongside Will.
In fact, son Jaden has starred with Will on two separate occasions. The first time occurred in 2006 with The Pursuit of Happyness, while their second collaboration arrived in 2013 in the critically reviled After Earth. And Will’s daughter, Willow, has also shared the screen with her pop.
In 2007 Willow’s first acting role was actually as Will’s on-screen daughter in I Am Legend. The following year, she also starred in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl and voiced a younger version of her mother’s character in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa. And before she had even turned ten years old, Willow had already started a successful career in music.
In fact, Willow became the youngest musician signed to Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s record label. She then released her debut single, “Whip My Hair,” in 2010. The song reached number two in the United Kingdom and number 11 in the United States and also went platinum.
Shortly afterwards, Willow released her second single, “21st Century Girl.” She also had plans for a debut album to come out in 2012, but the record was never released. In fact, it would be another couple of years before Willow launched an album.
There were other apparent set-backs too. In 2011, for instance, Will revealed that his daughter would be playing the lead character in an adaptation of the musical Annie. But the project didn’t actually get under way until 2013. And then Willow reportedly decided that she no longer wished to star in the movie.
But in 2015 Willow astonished fans by releasing her debut album, titled ARDIPITHECUS, without warning. She also came out with her second album, The 1st, on her 17th birthday two years later. Pitchfork subsequently praised the latter album for the development of her new music.
So now, after turning 18, Willow is reflecting on her time in the spotlight and the part that her parents have played in it. This took place on a December 2018 episode of the Facebook Watch chat show Red Table Talk. Willow usually co-hosts the program opposite mom Jada and Jada’s mother, Adrienne Banfield-Jones. And in this particular episode, Jada’s half-brother, Caleeb Pinkett, joined them too.
The episode’s theme was “learning to forgive.” And on the show, Jada and Caleeb chat in depth about their experiences with their shared father. It seems that Robsol Pinkett Jr. had struggled with drug addiction and died from an overdose.
“We had a lot of resentment,” Jada explains. “We had that feeling like we had to be responsible for him, but he never had to be responsible for us. And that was a hard pill for me to swallow.” She also discloses that Jada and her father had become estranged – but that he had tried to forge a relationship with her after her career had taken off.
“He told me at seven, ‘I can’t be your father. I’m a criminal, I’m an addict and that’s just what it is,’” Jada remembers. And Caleeb recalls how he’d had to inform his half-sister during a phone conversation that their dad had died not long after Jada had exchanged harsh words with her parent.
Jada continues, “The most difficult part of him dying like that is because he and I had had a horrendous fight when I found out that he relapsed. I was like, ‘I don’t owe you nothing.’” But ultimately, she has been able to forgive him.
Later on in the show, though, Jada quizzes her daughter about whether there had been a time in her life where she has had to forgive. And Willow then speaks candidly about her relationship with her parents. The teen had previously revealed, you see, that she’d self-harmed after struggling to cope with fame at an early age.
“After all of that kinda settled down and it was like a kind of lull, I was just listening to a lot of dark music,” Willow had explained on Red Table Talk in October 2018. “It was just so crazy, and I was plunged into this black hole, and I was cutting myself.” Jada had also previously disclosed that it had begun in 2010.
Willow had added that she’d managed to stop and now rarely discusses her self-harming. “I never talk about it because it was such a short weird point in my life,” she’d said. “But you have to pull yourself out of it.”
When Jada found out, she had understandably been devastated. “We went through what happened, and, in the moment, I realized as a mother you also have to give your children space to deal with their own shadow,” the actress had revealed in October. “There’s lots of things that my mother didn’t know about me that she’s just finding out about me.”
Jada had continued, “I was most proud about that she could share it in the way she did, which let me know she had come through in a major way, that she could put it on the table like that. I wanted to focus on what [it was] that got her through. I really talked to her about her powering side of her journey and give her all the praise in the world for that part instead of focusing on, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’”
In the December episode, then, Willow reveals that her early fame also put a strain on her relationship with her father. And she confesses that it took her years to be able to trust Will again. “I definitely had to forgive you and daddy for that whole ‘Whip My Hair’ thing,” she says to Jada on the show.
Willow explains that the pressure came more from Will than Jada. “It was mostly daddy because he was so harsh at certain times,” she says. The 18-year-old doesn’t reveal the particulars of what exactly happened with her dad, though.
Willow hints, however, that she didn’t want her career to play out the way that it did at such a young age. “It was a couple of years, honestly,” she says. “Trying to regain trust for not feeling like I was being listened to or like no one cared how I felt.”
Willow clarifies that although she wanted to make music, she had to figure some things out for herself – and learn to be kind to herself in the process. “I had to forgive myself because I felt guilty because everyone is trying to make me better, trying to make my dream,” the teen says. “But I didn’t really understand what my dream entailed.” At the end of the discussion, Willow confirms that she is “still dealing” with some of those emotions.
For his part, Will has also revealed that his daughter “really tested” him during that period. “Because she was the baby girl, she really had the most power over me. As a man, if your daughter says no, there’s really nothing you can do,” he told lifestyle magazine Haute Living in December 2018.
Will added, “She was done with ‘Whip My Hair.’ She was done with performing, and as a protest, she shaved her head bald. That was really the first time that I realized that my family wasn’t happy with the direction that I was taking them.”
Yet while Willow has clearly had her struggles in the past, it seems clear that she has now found her feet. And the rising star has some exciting projects in development too. For instance, Willow’s production company, MSFTS, has purchased the rights to Rebel of the Sands, Alwyn Hamilton’s fantasy book trilogy aimed at young adults.
Willow is also working on an animated series called Menencholy. The upcoming show is based on her own book proposal about a girl who can look into a former life. Willow told Deadline that it centers around the main character “at a mystical place called The Mystery School, where we follow her as she goes through a metamorphosis.”
Jaden is also continuing to act and release music, and he recently appeared in Netflix feature The Get Down. He can next be seen opposite Cara Delevingne in the movie Life in a Year. That’s about a teenage boy trying to give his dying girlfriend the most amazing year of her life. Meanwhile, Will is playing the Genie in the upcoming live-action Aladdin.
Will is additionally set to star in sequels to Suicide Squad and Bright as well as another Bad Boys movie. And while he and Willow may have had their differences, the star told Haute Living that things between them improved when he “lightened up.” He said, “I shut it down, and in that time I discovered so much new wisdom, so many new ideas.”