‘Worthy’ proves there’s more to Jada Pinkett Smith than her marriage

Jada Pinkett Smith with a copy of her autobiography, Worthy. Picture: Instagram

Jada Pinkett Smith with a copy of her autobiography, Worthy. Picture: Instagram

Published Oct 19, 2023


By Nichole Perkins

It is unfortunate that the main concern most people will have about Jada Pinkett Smith’s memoir, “Worthy”, will be if there are any new revelations about her relationship with her husband, Will Smith.

Maybe she knows this because she takes her time getting there, sprinkling breadcrumbs to show how he appeared in the periphery of her life before they got together.

Will you learn anything new?

It depends on how online you are and where you get your celebrity gossip. Jada claims she wrote “Worthy” to redeem herself from public assumptions, but at times it felt more like a guide for finding a spiritual practice.

“Worthy” reads like it was written with an eye toward the cinematic adaptation. The memoir opens with a woman contemplating suicide by driving off Mulholland Drive.

She wonders what will happen if she succeeds and worries how her children will respond if she does not, thinking that being paralysed or disfigured would be worse for them than her death.

Eventually she drives on to a three-day retreat with a “medicine woman” who guides her through an ayahuasca journey. Then we zoom back in time to her childhood, a literary version of “Yep, that’s me. I guess you’re wondering how I got here.”

Jada spends considerable time on her upbringing in Baltimore. She paints a touching portrait of her time with her maternal grandparents, notably her grandmother.

It is easy to see the appreciation she still has for what she learnt in her grandmother’s home as she chronicles navigating the challenges of her mother’s heroin addiction.

Her father also struggles with addiction, and Jada sees a pattern as she gets to know her paternal grandmother, who thinks her binge drinking is not a problem since it is only on the weekends.

There is a brief mention of a high school adventure to New York featuring actor Josh Charles, also raised in Baltimore, and of course, the story of how Jada and rapper Tupac Shakur became friends.

At this point, it is a familiar tale that emphasises the possibility of finding platonic soul mates in the opposite sex.

But her care with this story and her love for him are obvious. “What I didn’t expect, even with the uniqueness of his vibe,” she writes, “was that this young man and I would create a bond that would impact my life forever.”

We eventually get to her Hollywood career. If you want behind-the-scenes looks at “A Different World”, “Menace II Society”, “Set It Off” or any of her other star-launching features, you will be disappointed.

"Worthy" by Jada Pinkett Smith

She dips in and out of the various sets, gives glowing praise to her castmates where due, then returns to examining the course of her life. She enjoys the benefits of youth, beauty and fame – a little too much, as friends such as MC Lyte have to sometimes make sure she gets home okay.

And then, one day, her world comes to a halt as a mental health crisis sends her back home to Baltimore to recover. While there, she finally gets to know the Fresh Prince, aka Will, after a mutual friend invites them out together.

Will is still married at the time, and Jada’s mother discourages her from letting anything happen. A year later, when Will is divorcing his first wife, he calls her, declares himself her man, in so many words, and the rest is history.

And what a history it is. Jada describes their courtship, her unexpected pregnancy, her reluctance about marriage, his proposal, her refusal to sign a prenuptial, their wedding.

Their relationship is sometimes joyful and sometimes filled with great “dislike”.

She shares a telling anecdote about a fall she had while running with Cesar Millan and her dog. Her ankle was swollen and discoloured by the time she got home.

Concerned, she asked Will if she should get it checked out, but he barely glanced at it before saying she would be all right. The next day, she learnt her ankle was broken.

The incident taught her that if she did not express pain the right way, she would be ignored and expected to tough it out. It was a lesson they had both learnt during their childhoods, and in a marriage, it was equally unhealthy.

We get confirmation yet again that they have “a relationship of transparency, which is different from an ‘open’ relationship”.

Jada admits it is easier to accept the term “open” than dive into details about the terms of their partnership, but none of this is new or surprising. The rumours of their relationship status have circulated for decades.

Between Will’s own memoir and the “entanglement” scandal of 2020, many more details have emerged. But it may catch some off guard to read that the two have been separated since 2016.

It is not a legal separation, even though Jada bought her own home in 2021. She emphasises they are still a “family”.

However, the 2022 Oscars ceremony seemed to open a new chapter of their lives together. Jada was surprised by Will’s invitation to the Academy Awards and was prepared for the worst once she realised Chris Rock would be presenting.

She writes that Will and Chris have beef dating back to the late 1980s, and that Chris, who Jada reveals once asked her out on a date when he assumed she was separated from Will, made a point to antagonise her frequently in the past.

When the slap happened, Jada, like many watching at home, was unsure whether it was a skit. She could not tell from her seat if Will had made contact.

When Will yelled out the now-infamous line “Keep my wife’s name out your f***ing mouth,” Jada seems most shocked by Will calling her his wife.

She concluded that Will’s story about the incident was his own, but she recognised that there was more going on than his defence of her and that she needed to support him through his own difficult time.

Between each chapter, there is a reflection with quotes from Carl Jung, Ntozake Shange, Jada’s journals and other sources. Almost every reflection ends with questions the reader should ask themselves to gain clarity about their lives.

The questions make Jada sound like a therapist, though she includes a disclaimer that she is not one and is not providing counsel.

But there is an unmistakable self-help aspect to this memoir: Jada discusses all the spiritual practices she has tried, including taking Scientology classes; reading Buddhist texts; visiting Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, in Vietnam; and taking ayahuasca, a drink made from psychedelic plants.

Consuming ayahuasca is an indigenous practice, and it is easy to question the level of appropriation involved here, especially as Jada continues taking it and introduces it to close family and friends, including Will.

And now she is introducing it to her readers. She does not prescribe it exactly, but she repeats how much good it has done for her healing process and for her relationships.

There may be an ethical question here about whether it is her place to promote the practice, or maybe it all points to how far Jada has come from the Baltimore tomboy who once skipped school for New York adventures.

“Worthy” emphasises that every part of a life is worth examining, worth living, worth honouring. While Jada may indeed address all the questions people have about her, she mostly breezes through them with surface-level inspection.

She does not owe anyone more than she is willing to share, but readers cannot help but notice that the therapy-speak and spiritual platitudes create a distance between her and her audience.

∎ “Worthy” is available for pre-order from Loot.