On Monday, Willow Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris released the second installment of a two-part Red Table Talk special on Surviving R. Kelly. Presiding over the Facebook Watch series, Pinkett Smith recalled calling their producer and saying “we have to do a Red Table Talk about this right away.” Over the course of two short episodes, the Smith clan covered a lot of ground, speaking with survivor and docuseries participant Lisa Van Allen, her daughter Akeyla, and clinical psychologist Dr. Candice Norcott, who was also featured in the Lifetime project.
Willow and Van Allen’s teenage daughter Akeyla agreed that the series gave them insight into their “overprotective mothers.” Akeyla discussed a recent decision to block a boy who had been overly persistent over text and social media, saying, “I saw it as a red flag from [Van Allen’s] experience.”
Jada and Willow Smith discussed watching the docuseries together as mother and daughter and finding “teachable moments.”
“There have been so many times I’ve had to have very real conversations with Willow,” Jada Pinkett Smith began, “In regards to, I don’t care if you look at this person as your older brother and you trust them, you’re not to be alone, anywhere… Me having to tell her, it’s not you I don’t trust.”
During the emotional conversation, Van Allen elaborated on her life before R. Kelly, and navigating the foster care system. Van Allen recalled getting into a fight with R. Kelly, only to have him play a new song for her, called “I Don’t Mean It,” the next day. “So he would do things like that, write songs, and you’re thinking this is great, you’ve forgotten that he just threw water in your face.” Pinkett Smith added, “You’re young, you don’t know what love is supposed to look like. A lot of us haven’t seen very good examples of it in the first place.”
After 10 years with R. Kelly, on and off, Van Allen’s “breaking point” was her discomfort with having Kelly around her young daughter—she specifically recalled Kelly insisting that her daughter wear dresses. In retrospect, Van Allen deemed Kelly a “master manipulator,” and deplored the fact that it’s taken so many years for the public to pay attention to these survivors’ stories. “I came out in 2008,” she pointed out, “and nobody heard me.”
The Smith family noted that not all of the reactions to the docuseries have been positive. Willow explained, “The negative comments I’m seeing about the docuseries, it’s always that mindset of like, if something that bad happened she must have done something to make that come upon her.” Smith told Akeyla that, “I know how it feels to have people talking negatively about you on the internet, or your family.” The Red Table Talk special acted as an effective counter to this virtual hate, discussing and deconstructing the racist and sexist biases that lead us to ignore and disbelieve black women and girls. Dr. Candice Norcott explained the societal tendency to see black adolescents as less innocent, saying, “For black girls, it starts at 5…Seeing them as less innocent, more responsible for themselves than their white counterparts.”
At this point, Jada Pinkett Smith revealed that the docuseries “made me have to look at myself,” explaining, “I see how that happened with Aaliyah. I remember you would hear whispers of stuff, but you know, you’d go, oh she’s making hit songs, she must be OK.” Willow Smith had talked about her own relationship to Aaliyah’s music earlier on in the special. “What made me start crying was I had listened to Aaliyah and had known about R. Kelly and listened to his music when I was super young,” Smith began. “I had an inkling that he was slightly sus. It just hit me so hard when I was watching [the docuseries]… Seeing him in the back of that Age Ain't Nothing But A Number album cover. Something from my childhood was just debased. Why is he in the back just lurking?” R. Kelly married Aaliyah when she was 15 years old.
Van Allen said that R. Kelly had told her all about his relationship with Aaliyah. “He had a thing called pins and eyeballs, no matter if they stick pins in your eyeballs, you don’t talk about what we do… And he said he had that pact with Aaliyah as well.”
“Man, how complicit we all have been,” Pinkett Smith remarked at one point. She talked about playing “I Believe I Can Fly” in the background of a social media post, adding, “We should have all been screaming from the rafters.”
Ultimately, the Smiths credited Surviving R. Kelly for starting an important conversation about abuse and complicity, with Pinkett Smith concluding, “I do believe culturally, in our community, we’ve got some things to handle.”