Lots Of Celebrities Write Memoirs. Why Did Jada Pinkett Smith Get Vilified For Hers?

Photo: Steve Granitz/FilmMagic.
Since the infamous slap that shocked the world, Will Smith’s marriage to Jada Pinkett Smith has come under intense scrutiny. Many rationalized his emotional outburst at the Oscars as a reaction to Jada’s unimpressed expression in the moment after an especially crass Chris Rock joke. To the Jada detractors, it’s as if she, by telepathy, urged Smith to jump on stage and swiftly slap Rock. 
That five-second moment alone was seen as a reflection of their relationship. And to many people, Pinkett Smith was given complete culpability for the situation (which, let’s not forget, she had no part in). Now over a year later, Will Smith seems to have been largely forgiven, while Jada Pinkett Smith finds herself as the internet’s public enemy number one. She released a memoir called Worthy, in which she finally shares her side of the slap incident, and during her press tour, she’s been vilified and ridiculed.
In moments of vulnerability – which her memoir is chock full of — Pinkett Smith is heavily criticized and expected to be silent and strong, unlike her white peers. Britney Spears has been championed for her memoir where she opens up about her traumatic experiences under unjust guardianship and undergoing an abortion – as she should be. And yet, when Pinkett Smith’s memoir Worthy also deals with sensitive subject matter, it is prematurely deemed a ‘flop’ by Newsweek and criticized for bearing “eyebrow-raising admissions.” Comments under Pinkett Smith’s social media posts are racially charged, with one user describing her book as “affirmation for the immoral behavior of Jezebel Pinkett Smith.” Another user mocks her by saying, “there’s a difference between being a heroine and being on heroin.” 

Celebrities like Drew Barrymore, Emily Ratajkowski and Britney Spears are successfully capitalizing on their personal brands with podcasts, memoirs and talk shows while Pinkett Smith is chastised for doing the same thing.

Celebrities like Drew Barrymore, Emily Ratajkowski and Spears are successfully capitalizing on their personal brands with podcasts, memoirs and talk shows while Pinkett Smith is chastised for doing the same thing. She serves as an exception in a space where there is a visible lack of women of color. Pinkett Smith’s now-cancelled Red Talk Table series aimed to be a safe space, where people can “live in their humanity and not be shamed for it,” she told ET. Pinkett Smith says she shares intimate details of her life in order to “share knowledge…from a difficult experience that we can all learn from.” As one of the most well-known women in the world, her life will always include rumors and speculation. Her memoir, and her former show, enables her to use her own voice to speak her truth. Who are we to deny her that?
Conservative internet personality Candace Owens called Jada in a tirade “the most unlikeable woman in Hollywood,” adding that Will Smith wasn’t enough of a ‘man.’ Reddit threads describe her as “toxic,” “manipulative,” and as having “destroyed a great man.” A user adds that Pinkett Smith feels the need to “embarrass and emasculate” her husband in the public eye. 
Photo: Karwai Tang/Getty Images.
A tasteless meme making the rounds on TikToK, shows an image of Pinkett Smith alongside Will Smith at an award ceremony. The caption reads that Tupac, her childhood friend, was able to dodge a bullet – implying that Will Smith was unable to. This references Tupac's untimely death, where he was fatally shot by a drive-by shooting in 1996. Most headline images we see of Pinkett Smith show her frowning or rarely smiling. This depiction of her serves to reinforce the narrative that she is a scheming Angry Black Woman.
Pinkett Smith is the latest target of misogynoir, where prominent  Black women are unfairly labelled as ‘problematic’ and 'aggressive.' And she’s not alone. Other high-profile Black women who have faced such vilification include former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, the GOAT Serena Williams, and Duchess Megan Markle
Markle endured relentless abuse and scrutiny by the media. Those around her dismissed her as ‘difficult’ when her mental health was at an all-time low. It impacted her so heavily she developed suicidal thoughts. Many claimed she was just trying to tarnish the royal family’s image. Eventually, she and Harry left the establishment, seeking a new life for their family in California. The commentary of Markle, and the casting of her as angry, conniving, and undeserving of empathy or respect, is a prime example of misogynoir.
The term ‘misogynoir,’ coined by feminist scholar Moya Bailey in 2008, defines how misogyny and racism combine to harm Black women. They face the burdens of confronting both sexism and racism simultaneously. The discrimination Black women face is particularly insidious, and manifests in racial stereotypes and microaggressions. Jada Pinkett Smith is facing all of this now, but lest we forget that she did not always face such vitriol from the public. 

Pinkett Smith is facing a tirade of scrutiny and is constantly dehumanized ... We need to think about how these harmful behaviors are linked to racial biases, and recognize the depth of misogynoir at play in the backlash.

In the early 2000s, with the popularity of power couples like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith stood out. They were a prominent Black couple who were a model of enduring Black love. Many romanticized their relationship but revelations by the Smiths about their difficulties throughout their marriage left fans bitterly disappointed. To them, the honesty Will and Jada have shared tears apart the fantasy of the Smiths’ Black love. Much of this anger is primarily targeted towards Pinkett Smith. She is demonized as the catalyst for Smith’s supposed crisis. It should also be noted that Smith himself is standing by his wife and recently called her is "best friend."
Pinkett Smith’s behavior (hard to say what her most egregious offense is in the eyes of her haters; writing a memoir just like her husband did or daring to share pieces of her private life publicly, like so many celebs before her have) is described by the internet as  ‘controlling’ and ‘emasculating,’ and these attributes are especially reflective of misogynoir. They align with historical stereotypes about Black women and express an inability to view them with compassion, unlike Will Smith or other men whose actions are excused and condoned. The backlash to Pinkett Smith reinforces the all too familiar ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope, where Black women are seen to be cold and devoid of emotion.  We see how this exists on a systemic level, where Black women’s pain often goes ignored by healthcare providers and face exceptionally high maternal mortality rates, as they are four times more likely to die in childbirth
Tennis champion Serena Williams has endured such dehumanization throughout her career. She has endured the press describing her as a ‘man’ or using her supposed masculinity as a way to twist her emotions into fuel for their judgement. When facing provocative questions by reporters or unfairness by umpires, Williams’ behavior is often judged more harshly than her white counterparts.  
The oversexualization of Black women, a core component of misogynoir, was evident in responses to Jada Pinkett Smith’s supposed ‘entanglement’ with August Alsina. Smith was painted as sexually aggressive and criticized for her attraction to someone much younger than her (which men are rarely shamed for). The internet was quick to speak of her infidelity even if the relationship timeline was vague and Will Smith eventually confirmed that the two were temporarily separated at the time. But that still did not garner her any less hatred — neither did the recent revelation in Pinkett Smith’s memoir that the couple had been separated for six years before the Oscars slap.
Clearly, Pinkett Smith is facing a tirade of scrutiny and is constantly dehumanized in every aspect of her life. We need to think about how these harmful behaviors are linked to racial biases, and recognize the depth of misogynoir at play in the backlash to Pinkett Smith. We might even be unknowingly contributing to it. The people celebrating Spears for her memoir and hating Pinkett Smith for hers are part of the problem. She deserves the right to tell her own story and if the public isn’t into that, they can always look away and leave her be. The issue is everybody seems to have an opinion on Pinkett Smith’s choices, and they are used as reasons to denigrate and disrespect her.  It’s for the public to listen and learn from Pinkett Smith if they choose to, or to at least understand where she is coming from. We need to avoid being sucked into the toxic blend of misogynoir that the internet thrives on. It is only then we can break the cycle and celebrate successful Black women like Jada Pinkett Smith for telling their truths in a time when that truth is often used against them. 

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