Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith’s emotional ‘Red Table Talk’ demonstrates their business savvy
There’s hardly been a more charged, fascinating moment in TV this summer than Jada Pinkett Smith sitting at her famed Red Table with her husband, Will Smith, to talk about their marriage like never before. In the 25 years they’ve been married, Pinkett Smith in particular has cultivated a brand borne of her willingness to talk about anything and everything in public — except, for the most part, the particulars of her marriage, a constant source of speculation for curious onlookers. But when rapper August Alsina recently alluded to a relationship between himself and Pinkett Smith, and with her husband’s blessing no less, it opened the gate for those rumors to come rushing back to the forefront.
The chatter was so fierce, apparently, that Pinkett Smith decided she couldn’t ignore it — or flat-out deny it, as her reps initially did — this time. “There’s some healing that needs to happen,” she tweeted July 2, “so I’m bringing myself to The Red Table.” The declaration got over 100,000 retweets, and the resulting episode racked up 2 million views on Facebook Watch by the end of its first hour online. So the Pinkett-Smiths tackling the latest round of rumors about their marriage this publicly now isn’t just astonishing; it’s extremely savvy.
Taped last week, the July 10 episode of “Red Table Talk” brought the Pinkett-Smiths to the table in order to weed through the fallout. The speculation intensified in a way that had to feel somewhat familiar to the couple. One of the most consistent threads of Hollywood gossip in the last few decades has been about the mechanics of their marriage, with many wondering aloud whether or not they’re in an open relationship, or even more cynically, in more of a business partnership than a romantic one. Smith and Pinkett Smith have rarely addressed any of it (and certainly not in half as much depth as they did today).
As with any persistent rumor, their silence both helped keep the waters relatively calm and added to the mystique of it all. In 2018, however, Pinkett Smith launched “Red Table Talk,” a talk show all about having uncomfortable conversations in the interest of growing and, as she often says with grounded urgency, “healing.” Her husband makes enough appearances on the show to keep it firmly within the bounds of a family business venture, but they rarely delved into the specifics of their marriage — until now.
The new episode runs at a tightly edited 12 minutes long, in contrast to the series’ usual 40-plus minute discussions. The couple sits opposite each other at the table, each wearing black pants and shirts in the same shade of denim blue, visually presenting a unified front from the get go. Pinkett Smith explains the situation from her perspective, saying that she and Smith got to a point where they separated completely before she had an “entanglement” with Alsina. Smith nods along, occasionally interjecting with a “yeah” or joking(?) insistence that he thought he’d never speak to her again. (Their alternately breezy and clipped reactions are already tearing through Twitter in meme form, as per internet scandal tradition.) They agree that the experience brought them closer together; Pinkett Smith underlines that she’s grateful for their journey, and that there “are a lot of couples who go through those periods…and have to separate, and think it’s over.” They laugh; they sigh; they high five to their “deeper understanding of love…forged in fire.”
It’s a perfect distillation of what “Red Table Talk” and the Pinkett-Smiths do best: dissecting a controversial topic with meticulous consideration, an eye for relating it back to the audience, and just enough intrigue to keep people guessing as to what’s truly going through their heads.
The Pinkett-Smiths are two of the biggest stars in the world. And yet, unlike a show such as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” the point of “Red Table Talk” isn’t to draw the audience into the soap opera of their lives. At the Red Table, the Pinkett-Smiths take on timely topics and boil themselves down to their most essential parts in an effort to be just like you. Pinkett Smith invites guests to discuss everything from gun control to relationship woes in a safe space. She interviews her husband about his approach to parenting, and her Gen Z children about their own views and passions. The Pinkett-Smith family business has many arms, but runs on a commitment to “transparency” that’s nevertheless carefully curated. Somewhat paradoxically, they’ve built a collective #brand on authenticity.
Bringing their own relationship to the Table in as stark terms as they just did may not have been something either Pinkett Smith or Smith wanted to do before. And yet, that upfront offer of real time honesty, paired with a contentious edit they could control, is exactly in line with how they’ve been steering their professional lives in recent years. Setting the record straight like this is, in a way unique to the Pinkett-Smiths, both the means and the end.