For decades, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith were the epitomai of Black love due to what looked like a successful marriage, a beautiful family, and their constant support of one another. Social media was filled with #couplegoals memes of the actors and even J. Cole said he wanted “that Jada and that Will love” in his song “No Role Modelz.”
But like most celebrity couples, they were plagued with rumors like having an open marriage. However, over the last few years, the public perception of their marriage changed. The couple individually became more vocal about their relationship thanks to Jada’s popular Facebook Watch series Red Table Talk and Will’s self-titled memoir and the once pedestal that fans put them on was knocked from under their feet and they began to face back-to-back criticism.
The first shocking moment was when Jada admitted she had an “entanglement” with singer August Alsina after he revealed their relationship in an interview with Angela Yee. Jada continued to face backlash for other comments she said about her and Will’s relationship on her show. And then it was Will’s turn. The King Richard star’s memoir made several revelations about his and Jada’s relationship that many fans were becoming exhausted by them and there was even a petition started to stop the couple from sharing so many intimate details about their lives.
The #couplegoals memes quickly became jokes about their relationship. However, the couple still received support from others who applauded them for their authenticity. No relationship is perfect and after 25 years of marriage, it should be no surprise that they have dealt with a lot of ups and downs.
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But one takeaway from their nontraditional marriage is that they each allow the other person to have the freedom to be and do what they want. They also love each other no matter what, giving a new meaning to the viral clip “I’mma stick beside him/her.”
Here’s everything Will and Jada said about their marriage.
In an interview with Gayle King for 'CBS This Morning,' Will dismissed the notion that there was infidelity in their marriage.
"There's never been infidelity in our marriage. Never. Jada and I talk about everything, and we have never surprised one another with anything ever," he clarified to Gayle.
Jada dispelled rumors about having an open marriage.
"Should we be married to individuals who can not be responsible for themselves and their families within their freedom? Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and LOVE...for us??? Here is how I will change my statement...Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship...this means we have a GROWN one."
The “Fresh Prince” opened up about their unconventional marriage and unconditional love for one another in an interview with GQ.
"The pursuit of truth is the only way to be happy in this lifetime. And we sort of came to the agreement that authenticity was the release from the shackles of fame and public scrutiny."
"Jada never believed in conventional marriage. Jada had family members that had an unconventional relationship. So she grew up in a way that was very different than how I grew up. There were significant endless discussions about what is relational perfection? What is the perfect way to interact as a couple? And for the large part of our relationship, monogamy was what we chose, not thinking of monogamy as the only relational perfection."
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"We have given each other trust and freedom, with the belief that everybody has to find their own way. And marriage for us can't be a prison. And I don't suggest our road for anybody. I don't suggest this road for anybody. But the experiences that the freedoms that we've given one another and the unconditional support, to me, is the highest definition of love," he said via GQ.
Jada also spoke of not wanting a conventional marriage.
“I knew that I was not built for conventional marriage. Even the word ‘wife’: it’s a golden cage, swallow the key. Even before I was married, I was like, ‘That’ll kill me.’ And it damn near did!”
“Will is my life partner and I could not ask for a better one. I adore him, I never want people to think it was Will I didn’t want to marry,” she told the outlet. “But I can assure you that some of the most powerful women in the world feel caged and tied, because of the sacrifices they have to make to be in that position. So I wanted to talk about how we really feel about marriage.” via The Guardian.
In an interview with Oprah, Will discussed the importance of him and Jada finding happiness on their own.
“People only think of things in terms of sex… But the goal [of our marriage] is not a sexual goal. It’s spiritual. We are going to love each other no matter what.”
“To this day, if we start talking, it’s four hours. It’s four hours if we exchange a sentence. It’s the center of why we’ve been able to sustain and, you know, and why we’re still together, not choking the life out of each other. It’s like the ability to work through issues. I’ve just never met another person that I connect with in conversation more blissfully and productively than Jada.”
“We never actually like officially separated. Right? What happened was that we realized that it was a fantasy illusion that we could make each other happy. And we agreed that she had to make herself happy and I had to make myself happy. And then we were gonna present ourselves back to the relationship already happy. Versus demanding the other person fill our empty cup.”
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“The problem is that when you come [broken] like that, the cup actually has a hole in the bottom. So you pour all your good love in there and it goes out onto the floor… You got two broken people and that’s what we’re doing. We just decided that you have to figure out how to be happy, you know? And it was a little bit more contentious from my side. I was like, ‘You know what, you go figure it out. You go figure out if you can be happy and just prove to me it’s even possible.’ I’ma do me and you do you.”
“The simple idea [of loving in freedom] is, you love in freedom with everybody except your partner, right? Your kids are gonna go off to college and you’re going to wait for them to come back and they might not be able to come back this Christmas, and you know, you let them go. Your friends–there’s a certain fluidity in your interactions, right? It’s…it’s friendship versus marital prison." via The Oprah Conversation on AppleTV+.
Jada talked about needing freedom in her marriage to Will.
“I just felt like, I needed more freedom. And freedom in the sense of like … the public wants you to be a certain way, your family needs you in a certain way, your partner needs you to be something. And for me, that just was never … I’m really a free spirit at heart, I really am. And I always have been. And I just felt like my life had got constricted into this little box and it was strangling me, basically.” viaEntertainment Tonight.
Jada further explained her views on open marriage and why she and I Will aren't in one.
“Open marriage? Let me first say this, there are far more important things to talk about in regards to what is happening in the world than whether I have an open marriage or not. I am addressing this issue because a very important subject has been born from discussions about my statement that may be worthy of addressing.”
“The statement I made in regard to, 'Will can do whatever he wants,' has illuminated the need to discuss the relationship between trust and love and how they co-exist. Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should 'behave'? Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions, and underlying threats of “you better act right or else” keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone the safer we are? What of TRUST and LOVE?”
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“Should we be married to individuals who can not be responsible for themselves and their families within their freedom? Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and LOVE…for us???Here is how I will change my statement…Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship…this means we have a GROWN one.” via Facebook April 2013
Will’s memoir gave insight into the time they were separated.
“Our time apart had helped us both to discover the power of loving in freedom. We are simultaneously one hundred percent bound together, and one hundred percent free. We agreed that we are both imperfect people, doing our best to figure out how to be in this world joyfully.”
Jada opened up about trust in their relationship.
"You gotta trust who you're with, and at the end of the day, I'm not here to be anybody's watcher. I'm not his watcher. He's a grown man. I trust that the man that Will is is a man of integrity. HE's got all the freedom in the world, and as long as Will can look at himself in the mirror and be OK, I'm good." via The Howard Stern Show.
Will explained why he and Jada don’t consider themselves married anymore.
"We don't even say we're married anymore. We refer to ourselves as 'life partners,' where you get into that space where you realize you are literally with somebody for the rest of your life. There's no deal breakers. There's nothing she could do—ever—nothing that would break our relationship. She has my support till death, and it feels so good to get to that space." via Rap Radar’s podcast
Jada spoke on rumors surrounding their marriage.
"I've heard all the things—their marriage is not real, he's gay, she's gay, they swing. But at the end of the day, people have to believe what they have to believe. I'll tell you what, it's too hard to be in a pretend marriage. Life's too short for that one." via Atlanta’s Q100 radio
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Will spoke on the fake concept of marriage.
“I remember the day I retired. I literally said to Jada ‘That’s it. I retire. I retire from trying to make you happy. I need you to go make yourself happy and just prove to me that it’s even possible.’”
“We cracked the hell up. We started talking about [how] we came into this fake romantic concept that somehow when we got married that we would become one. And, what we realized is that we were two completely separate people on two completely separate individual journeys and that we were choosing to walk our separate journeys together. But her happiness was her responsibility and my happiness was my responsibility.” via Instagram.
Jada believed she would never get married.
"I never thought about being married or having a family. I didn't know anything about that because I came from a single mom so I always thought I'd be a single mom and have a career. Then I found this beautiful man, Will. I got married to him and I got my bonus son Trey and then I got Jaden and I got Willow and I was able to create, for myself, something I never had—which means family." via Vh1's Dear Mama Event
Both Will and Jada explained their views on monogamy.
Will: “Our perspective is, you don’t avoid what’s natural and you’re going to be attracted to people. And if it came down to it, then one would say to the other: ‘Look, I need to have sex with somebody. Now, I’m not going to if you don’t approve of it.’… In our marriage vows, we didn’t say ‘forsaking all others.’ We said, ‘you will never hear I did something afterwards.’ Because if that happens the relationship is destroyed.” via U.K. magazine Reveal, July 2008
Jada: “We always have people that we’re attracted to that we talk about. That don’t stop just because you’re married. Somebody’s always gonna catch your eye. That’s real. Somebody’s gonna always be prettier than me, and somebody’s always gonna be more in awe of him than me, and he gonna be like *in Will’s voice* ‘yo, she really like me’ (laughter), but as far as somebody being right for us… is there somebody right for a nice night? Maybe. But somebody that can sustain our life and sustain what we’ve built together, absolutely not!” via WJLB Morning Show, June 2010
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Jada called Will her best friend.
"He's been by my side through some of the most difficult parts of my life. And so that's something you can never take away. A lot of other things, you never know, other things might change...but one thing is for sure: I love him deeply and he is my best friend." viaHuffPost Live
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
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At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
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If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
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“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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