Since its Facebook Watch debut two years ago, the Red Table Talk, hosted by Jada Pinkett-Smith, has become synonymous with healing and accountability.
Olivia Jade Gianulli's highly anticipated visit to La Casa Pinkett Smith was no exception: Terse words were exchanged, privilege was checked, and we got an inside look at the scandal otherwise known as Operation Varsity Blues.
On Monday 7th December, Olivia revealed that she was pulling up a chair to the iconic red table to talk, for the first time, about the scandal that ripped her family apart and sent her parents to jail. Last year, Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Gianulli were named in a sting operation aimed at uncovering a ring of well-off parents committing serious fraud to get their students into esteemed universities. The couple was accused of scheming with Rick Singer (CEO of a popular college coaching and counselling company) to get their daughters into USC, paying the school $500,000 and making their kids pose as student athletes in order to secure their admission to the private research university. It worked — the girls were admitted to USC — but their fraud was ultimately discovered by the FBI. Now, they're currently serving time in federal prison.
Given everything that we know of the case, Olivia's choice to speak up about her experience on Red Table Talk makes sense; it's a show known for providing a "come to Jesus" moment for people who've found themselves wrapped up in scandal. But not everyone at the table was eager to hear Olivia's side of the story in the new episode, which premiered on Facebook Watch today. From the jump, Gammy (Jada Pinkett Smith's opinionated mother) was not feeling it, and understandably so.
"I fought [Olivia Jade appearing on the show] tooth and nail," Gammy admitted at the table. "I just find it really ironic that she chose three Black women to reach out to for her redemption story. White woman coming to Black women for support when we don't get the same from them...it's bothersome to me on so many levels. Her being here is the epitome of white privilege to me."
Jada, who was embroiled in her own major scandal a few months ago and came clean about it in front of the whole world, pushed back on her mom's arguments. In her view, it was important that Olivia Jade had an opportunity to speak her truth, even if it was coming from a place of privilege. She was reminded of her own kids, and as a result, Olivia Jade was invited to the red table.
The episode took place just a few weeks after her parents began their respective prison sentences, and the 21-year-old had a lot to get off of her chest. Olivia revealed that she learned of the scandal from a Google search during spring break. In the months that followed, she was so embarrassed by the news that she hid out in her apartment for months. And she never returned to USC.
"I didn't one hundred percent understand what happened because there was a lot that I wasn't fully aware of when I was applying," she told Jada, Gammy, and Willow. "So when I got home, I was like, I can't go back there — this is wrong."
Gammy didn't bother hiding her feelings even when Olivia was at the table, letting the younger woman know that she wasn't at all worried about how the case would affect her success because of the innate privilege that the Gianullis carried; because Olivia and her sister are white, rich, and part of one percent, they could bounce back from a massive scandal in ways that marginalised people could never dream of. To keep it simple, Gammy truly did not give a damn about what that young lady was talking about.
"I'm not trying to victimise myself," came Olivia's response. "I don't want pity — I don't deserve it. We messed up. We just want a second chance to say that we messed up. I want people to know how bad I feel."
"I wasn't able to talk about this for so long because of the legalities behind it," she continued. "So I never got to say, 'I'm really sorry that this happened' or own that it was a big mess up on everybody's part. But everybody in my family feels that way."
Eventually, the conversation developed into a discussion about privilege, and Olivia Jade admitted to not feeling like the scheme was necessarily wrong at the time because she was "in her own little bubble." Back then, she didn't understand why there was so much public outcry because so many of the people in her community had done similar things as her parents to get their kids into elite colleges. Olivia also claimed that she didn't know the full extent of Singer's rule-bending and didn't think she had to depend on it to get into USC; she had always been a good student and remembered filling out her own college applications with truthful information. Nonetheless, being on the receiving end of the backlash made Olivia realise that thinking that shortcuts were the norm was part of her privilege.
"I understand that just based off of my skin colour, I already had my foot in the door and was already ahead of everyone else," Olivia clarified. "It caused a big shift in my head...going forward, I do want to do stuff to change that."
Gammy had a hard time stomaching Olivia's explanation until the very end, but she was pleased to see that the influencer seemed to be putting herself in the position to listen, learn, and do the work toward achieving social equity. I'm definitely with Gammy on this one, but at the end of the day, we have no choice to take Olivia at her word and keep an eye out to see just how she learns from the experience. The world is watching.