Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Devil in the Green Dress

This is one of those pieces where I can't provide a map or a key to tell you where I am headed, you just have to trust that it might all make sense by the end. Initially I thought I might write this in two parts, but that is not how it is unfolding. So follow me on this meandering journey through the personal and professional reactions to the noteworthy topic du jour. Because I've seen so many different takes on the Slap and since I've already had my say on that, I want to talk about Jada. 

Somehow, a fight between two men is her fault...because she made a face after a comment that was a joke made at her expense. She's at fault (checks notes): for not stopping her husband, for not following her husband to the stage to stand in between his open hand and another man's face, for being bald, for having an entanglement with a man who kissed and told, for addressing the matter publicly on her internet talk show, for dating Tupac back when they were in high school, for convincing Will that Wild Wild West was going to be a hit...

I'm sure I left something out, but it is absolutely crazy to me how Jada Pinkett becomes Helen of Troy and takes all of the blame for how two grown ass men acted up on national television.

How is that personal? Well, it isn't because I am friends with Jada. In fact, I am not even a fan of hers, since I believe her addition to the cast of A Different World is the precise point when the show jumped the shark. Her character was terrible and annoying, and with rare exceptions, I have yet to see Jada take on any role that isn't some derivative of Lena James. 

It sure is convenient that Jada became the Devil in the Green Dress that Denzel Washington alluded to when he sought to comfort Will Smith after the Slap. In our attempts to make sense of what set him off and made him forget where he was and how many people were watching, the only logical explanation was he got possessed. An evil spirit inhabited that man's body and forced it to act out on national television. And in the tradition of Adam blaming Eve for his choice to bite the apple, the world settled on Jada.

Why do y'all hate Jada so much? For anyone who has been paying attention to the Smiths for any amount of time, how did it escape your notice that while Will has continued to have a rather high-profile, yet consistent career that has ebbed and flowed, hers has been practically dormant for a minute. She started hosting an internet-based talk show with her Mama from her basement before the pandemic. Jada worked steadily in the 90s, up until she had her first child with Will. She found work here and there, but after their daughter was born, Jada went ghost for a while. She fronted a band, she had a short-lived TV show, she voiced the Hippo on Madagascar (with Chris Rock), co-produced a sitcom with Will, and she had periodic cameos in various movies. Will has been on a hot streak of summer blockbusters, intense dramas, and being a Hollywood mogul. Their son Jaden got to be the Karate Kid and daughter Willow got to be a rockstar for an entire summer. Jada got to stand on the sidelines with her spiked coffee to cheer everyone on.

I don't know why y'all never noticed that Will has always treated his family like employees. I remember that the Smiths hosted the BET Awards show together in 2005 and this promo captures my belief that Will has been trying to push guide his children's careers from birth. He and Jaden co-starred in a disastrous movie (one that I actually paid to see in the theater) and it included some truly painful moments of father-son tension that were not acting. Not too long ago, Willow opened up about the pressure she felt from her father to pursue a music career after the success of her Whip My Hair video. How it took her refusal to continue with a tour for him to accept that he had been forcing her into something that no longer seemed fun. She was 12.

Will has confessed on quite a few occasions that he does the most. Before he wrote his book, he gave plenty of interviews in which he outlined his I-think-therefore-I-am-Legend philosophy, and every single time, I have come away feeling drained by his intensity. The man is consumed by the pursuit of success, and every move he makes is about being Will Smith, the man with the multi-million dollar brand name. I wish more of you took the time to psychoanalyze him instead of Jada, who has been his ride or die all along. Every movie premier. Every twist and turn. Every career high and low.

Until August whatever his name told everyone about his puppy love affair with Jada, NOBODY had a clue how unhappy, unfulfilled, tired, and generally sick of Will's shit she was. Sure, the rumors about them have always alluded to them being about as real as the Fendi bag you bought from someone's trunk, but you wear it anyway. What man hasn't been called gay in Hollywood and shrugged it off because that is the rumor about everybody? And who cared if she went a few years without working if he was bringing home $20 million per film?

I have said this several times and will say it again for everyone in the cheap seats--Will isn't anybody's cuckhold. He's had dalliances and at some point Jada said bet, what's good for the goose is good for the gander and she got her some. But her non-disclosure agreement wasn't as airtight, so when her little boy toy got in his feelings about Mrs. Robinson cutting him lose once she had her fun, everybody is out here clutching pearls and denouncing Jada as if...

As if marriage ain't complicated and messy AF for everybody. Beyonce wrote a whole album in response to Jay-Z's extra-curricular activities, and I swear that is only because she knew fucking one of his friends wasn't worth it. And how we found out about that was because Solange couldn't believe that shit and threw hands in an elevator.

I mentioned to a friend recently how people are being way too dismissive of Jada's alopecia. I saw where someone questioned if it is any more or less traumatic than men going bald in their 20s and that was the moment when I realized how desperately y'all want to salvage Will's reputation and career. Did you know that there is a support and advocacy community for people that suffer with alopecia (and I know this because I'm on their mailing list)? When you dismiss it as a milder auto-immune disease than lupus or multiple sclerosis, is that because you know from personal experience, or just don't think it is a big deal for someone to suddenly be disfigured or have their appearance altered by something they can't control? As if the stress of being Mrs. Will Smith didn't finally get to her? Have y'all forgotten Michael Jackson's vitiligo?

Here is where I get personal. I have this birthmark on my forehead, which I've had since I was a child. This picture is one of the earliest appearances of it (the faint shadow you see in the upper left corner). In my teens, I had a dermatologist who provided options if I wanted to have it removed, and because I had been teased relentlessly about it for my entire life at that point, I considered it. This was the late 80s though, so the methods for removal sounded like torture--having it frozen, burned, or cut off. And get this, I did have portions of my birthmark cut off to get it biopsied for skin cancer and it grew back! That was the risk I faced including discoloration or some kind of disfiguring scar that would have been no different than the mark itself.

For years, I was very self-conscious and never felt safe from the ridicule of my peers or some adults. Once a substitute teacher cracked that it looked like I had a third eyebrow, that became the default insult for the remainder of my elementary school days. In middle school, I was declared ugly and diseased. By high school, I thought people had outgrown the taunts, but I later learned by accident that someone whom I thought was my friend had talked about me and the ridiculous splotch on my forehead.

Yeah, kids are cruel and teenage girls are mean and boy are stupid. All of that. And though I am used to the stares and the awkward questions from children, every now and then, someone makes a bad joke, so I recognize the look Jada gave in response to Rock's quip. I can tell you how I have accepted my birthmark and how I chose not to have it removed because I came to see it for something greater than a flaw. I can tell you that I don't care if people whisper behind my back about that thing on my forehead. But I can also tell you that I would NEVER intentionally sit on the front row at a comedy show...

I can tell you that it was a few years ago in San Francisco when an unhoused man made me feel like that ugly middle school kid again after he harassed me for not giving him money. He started out by hitting on me, then he asked me for money, and then completely turned into an asshole when I honestly told him that I did not have any cash. I haven't wanted to go back to San Francisco because of that encounter.

So yeah, I feel a personal connection to Jada over the fact that she had an honest here we go again moment and everyone is calling it the look that launched a hundred angry steps. You want to know why she didn't jump up to stop Will? Because she was in shock like the rest of us!

I haven't read Will's book and honestly, I won't since we all need a break from their never-ending drama to focus on other issues. I didn't have to write this, but I felt compelled to say something in Jada's defense after seeing how folks have either written her out of the narrative or reframed it to cast her as Tituba from the Salem witch trials who set this all in motion with her evil feminine wiles (midlife crisis). A lot of Hollywood couples had extramarital entanglements, and not all of them were discreet (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn come to mind). Even some of the long-haulers had non-traditional marriages. You'd be surprised.

So please stop. Miss me with all of your amateur expertise in relationships when we spend a great deal of time on social media trying to understand why some men think paying for a date is some kind of conspiracy by women to drain their souls. When we've got dudes offering advice from their cars in the parking lot of McDonald's before their weekend visitation starts. When there are women bragging about how well they take are of men who haven't married them so they've been playing house for 15 years. Water your own lawn!

A final word on why I took the time to defend Jada--because I see her. I see this woman living her life like the rest of us, dreams deferred and answered prayers and everything else in between. Maybe she is terrible and this is that moment in Mean Girls when she gets hit by a bus, or maybe she is a much better actress than we realize. Just because she is comfortable with her bald head that doesn't mean she is immune to the sting of a bad joke. Y'all think everything is fair game and it isn't. Words do hurt people, and as a friend pointed out, we know when someone is hitting below the belt. Poking fun at a woman's appearance walks a very fine line and is often just mean. 

And slapping somebody on live television is stupid. Will Smith has been telling us for YEARS what kind of person he is and now he's shown us. Chris Rock has been telling us that he's kind of a jerk too, but with more self-awareness. So again, how did this narrative shift in 24 hours to Jada being the Instigator, Geppetto the Narcissist Puppeteer? Incredible. That's a whole semester on Freud that most of you skimmed from a YouTube video, so now you think you know something? You only know what you saw, and no one saw Jada slap anybody. So stop smacking her around and if you can't say anything respectful about her, then keep her name out of your mouth.

17 comments:

  1. Well said! Literally just had this conversation with a male friend! I didn't understand how everything was her fault. As if everyone overlook Will and his issues.

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    1. Well developed but why didn't she stop him and after the slap, when he sat down to cuss was she smiling or smugging.

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    3. I cannot answer either one of those questions. I also cannot answer why he was also filmed laughing just seconds before he stormed the stage. That isn't really my job to know what either party was thinking in the immediate aftermath of the joke or the slap. Those are questions for Will and Jada.

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  2. I love this post, well said all around, wow 😯
    #benevolencerenaissance

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  3. Will's actions were his own, so it's absolutely not her fault, but it's not unreasonable to wish the she could protect him the way he went on that stage in defense of her. Sleeping with her son's friend should never have been an option for her. Then she brings him on her show and exploits his pain for views. She never should have released that episode for public consumption.

    It wasn't her responsibility to stop him, from going on stage, but it would have been nice if she attempted to protect him from himself.

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    1. I can understand and respect that perspective. I also think Will chose to sit at the Red Table and talk about that matter. Until that point, they hadn't felt the need to address any of the other rumors that had circulated for years about their relationship. So...

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  4. Every.Single.Word.
    I have said time and time again. I finally had to admit that most had a problem with Jada; they blamed her gir Will's actions; implemented the age old sexual double standard; and were dismissive of Jada's feelings on a whole.
    You eloquently stated in a single post what I've expressed over 15 or most posts.
    Thank you for writing this.

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    1. Thank you for reading. Please share your blog :)

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  5. This is everything wrapped up nicely. I've been pushing back on all the negativity about Jada for days. I'm tired now. The infantilization of Will has worn me out. I had a friend say that we needed to warn our sons about women like Jada and I am just so perplexed. She got dressed and showed up to support her husband. Someone insulted her and now all of this is her fault. For not taking the joke. For not stopping Will. For embarrassing him with August. Etc. It's appalling. I wish people would just say I don't like her and leave it there.

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    1. Agreed. She has shown up for Will from the beginning and will continue to do so. When everybody else abandons ship (like now), she will ride it out. So I don't get this hate for her at all.

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  6. A Whole Lot Of Horse-Manure

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    1. You're entitled to that opinion. Thank you for reading.

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