The Fresh Prince may soon be less a princess.
As black Hollywood continues to sort out the salacious details of the divorce proceedings between Kobe Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, and more recently football legend Deion Sanders and his wife, Pilar, fans are now bracing for the possible demise of one of the most celebrated African-American marriages Tinseltown has seen in years.
For months, rumors have swirled around the fate of superstar Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s 13-year union. Tabloids and blogs have pointed to everything from Pinkett Smith’s alleged romantic fling with J. Lo’s ex, Marc Anthony, to supposed fights between Will and Jada over the acting and musical careers of their two children, Jaden and Willow, as being the root of the couple’s problems.
Adding fuel to the fire are this week’s reports that Pinkett Smith recently made a visit to the office of well-known divorce lawyer, Laura Wasser.
Wasser is known for representing the likes of Maria Shriver, Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, and Kim Kardashian at the end of their marriages. Though the Smiths released a joint press release last August stating that their relationship was intact, rumors persist that they now live separately and are selling off their joint property.
“Though it’s not clear what exactly is happening—it is clear that something is going on,’’ says Judy Smith, a crisis-management consultant based in Washington, D.C., whose company has handled several high-profile celebrity divorces. “When stories like this continue to surface and won’t go away something is usually behind them.’’
Neither Smith could be reach for comment.
Sources close to the power couple say both Will and his actress wife have strong personalities that have clashed one too many times of late.
“They just kept butting heads over the kids and other personal issues within the marriage,’’ said a former long-time employee of the Smiths. “Jada’s independent and focused, and Will likes to be in control. Someone has to agree to give in and that wasn’t happening anymore with them.’’
The source said that compromise used to be more commonplace in the Smith household before children Willow, 10, and Jaden, 13, became celebrities in their own right.
Both children have enjoyed success of sorts in major movies and music. Jaden had a huge box-office hit with The Karate Kid in 2010, while Willow recorded a few radio hits and continues to grace fashion blogs with her offbeat, funky, and oddly mature style.
The high visibility of the Smith offspring generated spirited debate early last year, when bestselling writer Terry McMillan suggested the Smiths were being “pimped” by their parents. At the height of Willow Smith’s hit single, “Whip My Hair,’’ McMillan took to her personal Twitter account and let her opinions of child stardom be known.
“The Smith children already act like child stars. There’s arrogance in their demeanor and behavior. It feels like the Smith children are being pimped and exploited. They are already hungry for fame, what about the 4th grade?”
After huge Twitter backlash from fans, McMillan apologized for her comments.
Still, comparisons often are made with other black celebrities who share the kind of fame Will Smith has—and have children who are raised in or around show business. Stars such as Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson appear to have gone to great lengths to keep their children out of the glare of the Hollywood spotlight and away from the celebrity scene.
Smith’s eldest son, Trey (from his first marriage), also has had limited exposure to the media, though that may change with his graduation from high school last year.
In sharp contrast, Jaden at age 7 appeared with his father in the 2006 film, The Pursuit of Happyness. He even won the 2007 breakout performance award at the MTV Movie Awards.
“That was Trey’s mother’s decision to keep him away from early celebrity and cameras. She didn’t want that for her son and Will respected her decision,’’ says the former employee. “But Will and Jada didn’t see a problem with letting their kids do what they wanted to do at first—which was to do what their parents did.’’
Tensions reportedly surfaced between the two stars as the level of attention and pressure grew on the children to perform and succeed. Willow regularly appears on blogs sporting shaven hairstyles and ultrahip clothes that few 10-year-old girls could rock. Jaden often hangs out with his friend, Justin Bieber, at Los Angeles Lakers games.
Though reports suggest Jada felt her daughter was growing up too fast and wanted to put the brakes on her career, others say it was the reverse, with Will wanting the children to focus more on school. Both children are home-schooled on the couple’s spacious estate outside Los Angeles.
No matter the cause of the Smiths’ possible split, many believe that if the couple actually do file divorce papers, the loss of one of the country’s few African-American power couples would surely be felt across the industry.
“They truly played the game of Hollywood and played it well,’’ said one notable Hollywood executive. “They hung with Tom Cruise, the Beckhams, and all the big-time stars. Denzel wasn’t doing that and won’t be doing it, and neither will Samuel L. or Laurence Fishburne. Jada and Will enjoyed the Hollywood game and were able to get some unique projects done as a result.’’
Over the 13 years of their marriage, the two produced creatively diverse projects such as TNT’s Hawthorne series, The Secret Life of Bees movie, and the Broadway show, Fela.
But beyond the business savvy and smarts of the couple’s marriage, the Smith family as a unit provided another invaluable service for many in the African-American community.
“I hate to think of them breaking up because they always seemed like a strong, loving and committed couple,’’ said 32-year-old Los Angeles native Lacey Jones, a fan of Smith’s since the actor’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air days. “They gave me inspiration as a black couple making it work. You just don’t see that a lot, and it gave me hope that marriages can happen and can last in our community.’’
The couple regularly touted their love for each other and the time spent in the bedroom, during their many magazine and television interviews. Smith even admitted he didn’t want to endure the pain of another divorce. Overcoming those lingering images and statements will be a challenge for both stars if they decide to go their separate ways.
“People understand that relationships end and things happen,’’ said Judy Smith, the crisis expert. “But they defined themselves so much as a family and as a couple that it may take some time to redefine themselves in their careers.’’