On the actor’s Facebook Watch show no topic is off the table. As she tells Stylist, she thinks that women need to apply that same fearlessness of conversation to all aspects of their lives.
Jada Pinkett-Smith wants to “go there”.
This is the actor’s catchphrase, the mantra that drives every episode of her hit Facebook Watch television show Red Table Talk. The series, launched in 2018 and starring Pinkett-Smith and her mother Adrienne and daughter Willow engaging in open, unfiltered conversation, sometimes with guests but often on their own, is about going there.
All those subjects that you thought were off limits and all those conversations that you thought celebrities would never engage in are being had every single week at the red table in Pinkett-Smith’s sprawling Calabasas mansion and beamed into millions of Facebook accounts around the world.
Porn? They went there. Infidelity? They went there. The women of Red Table Talk have started conversations about domestic violence, about institutional racism, about adoption and about the treatment of young women by the media in this great cancel culture age that we’re living through. (Thanks to Jordyn Woods, they went there.)
But there’s one conversation that Pinkett-Smith thinks that women aren’t having enough. One talking point that women need to unpack.
“I think the biggest taboo conversation, even for women, still, is sex!” Pinkett-Smith exclaims. We’re sitting in an airy conference room wedged high on the side of Facebook’s London offices. There’s a help-yourself pick and mix counter in the lobby. (I help myself.) Pinkett-Smith is in London on a whirlwind trip promoting the second season of Red Table Talk. And she wants to go there.
“Believe it or not,” she laughs. “It’s sex! It is so interesting, as soon as you bring it up it’s like–” she reels backwards in her chair, clenching her firsts. “It’s not difficult for me to talk about it, but it is interesting to see reactions. Even in the press, [the response is] just like ‘TMI’. It’s like, oh, you can listen to rap music talking about all kinds of nonsense, but if a woman is trying to talk about her sexuality in a healthy manner, now it’s TMI? You know what I mean?”
I do. I think about the headlines that Pinkett-Smith has generated over the course of the first season of Red Table Talk. There was the time the tabloid media pored over her relationship with husband Will after she invited celebrity sex guru Esther Perel to comment on the taboo topic of infidelity. Or that time that Willow revealed on the show that she learned about sex when she walked in on her parents in the middle of the act.
Pinkett-Smith likes talking about sex, because she loves seeing the exaggerated reaction whenever she takes the conversation there. “Even just giving health tips on how to keep your body healthy,” she muses. “Everybody is just like ‘I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it-how-dare-you’!” She laughs again, a naughty, lascivious laugh like the kind your girlfriends make after one-too-many-martinis.
“You know, when we talked about vaginal rejuvenation [on Red Table Talk] it was like – ‘What is HAPPENING!’” Pinkett-Smith mimes drawing a deep breath and clutching at her figurative pearls. (On the show Pinkett-Smith praised her own non-invasive vaginal rejuvenation for making her vagina look like “a beautiful little peach.”)
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ You can listen to some men disrespect women and talk about women in a violent manner in regards to sex [in music] but you say vagina and it’s just like, ugh? As if the ‘p word’ is more appropriate than the vagina word? All of that is still fascinating to me.”
Pinkett-Smith is good at talking. Watch her on Red Table Talk and you’ll notice that she has a particular talent for driving conversations, steering them openly and honestly to places that interview guests might never have thought they would go. When they’re there, Pinkett-Smith stops talking and she starts listening. When a guest on Red Table Talk is sharing their story they’ll find that they have Pinkett-Smith’s undivided attention. She holds their gaze. She processes their words.
During our interview in the airy conference room at the Facebook office with the pick-and-mix counter in the lobby I feel the full force of her contemplative attention. No wonder celebrities like Ciara, Common, Kristin Davis and Ellen Pompeo are lining up to appear on the show.
They don’t just come because Pinkett-Smith built it. They come, she says, to engage in conversations that strip away fear. “The power of conversation is just acquiring more understanding,” she explains. “The unfortunate part is we can only measure our situations by who we are, and who we are can sometimes be very limited.”
The point of Red Table Talk, she says, was to forge connections in spite – and because – of our inherent differences. “With more connection to others, and more understanding of others, there’s more freedom and joy and less fear,” she says. “The more authentic we can be, the deeper understanding we can have. The deeper the connection is, the deeper the freedom is.”
Each episode’s particular topics are drawn from the Smith family’s personal lives, from their friends and family and from the show’s Facebook community. (“Our RTT family,” as Pinkett-Smith calls them.) The most difficult conversation for Pinkett-Smith was one in the first season on the subject of loss. “Literally like five minutes before I had to go on I got a call about one of my girlfriends who had passed away from cancer,” she says. “I had to process that on screen… That moment was really difficult to keep together. But it was good. It was good. And I know that she would have wanted me to do it that way.”
That this platform for talking honestly and openly, without judgement or shame, has formed on the notoriously judgemental and shamey internet is not lost on Pinkett-Smith. “There isn’t a lot of safe spaces, not just for women but for people in general, especially online,” she says. But what Facebook offers Pinkett-Smith, through Red Table Talk, is the chance to make those connections that she believes are so important on a global platform.
Especially for women. Pinkett-Smith isn’t surprised when she hears that women struggle to speak up or use their voice. “There are these boxes that society creates for women that really are not conducive to the feminine journey in its most authentic form,” she explains. “Women feel as though they get persecuted for what’s deeply true for us in regards to our most internal desires or thoughts or needs.”
If you want to combat that, all of the centuries and centuries (and centuries and centuries and centuries more) of judgement and shame, women have to be willing to go there.
“I do believe that we as women have to do a better job in being honest… stop shaming each other, you know what I mean? Embrace one another in this journey called life as a woman,” Pinkett-Smith says.
She takes a deep breath – she’s on a roll now. She’s going there. “We talk about this whole movement of needing men to be more responsible and be more respectable to women, take better care of women in the workplace. But are we doing that for one another?” Pinkett-Smith says. “The way that I see it, if we are going to ask that of men and hold their feet to the fire, we have to hold our feet to the fire. Because at the end of the day it’s women who have to cradle each other through this journey. We have to make contact with that self-love so that we can honour each other.”
New episodes of Red Table Talk will air on Facebook Watch this September.
Images: Supplied/Facebook, Getty