Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s names may come to mind when you think of Hollywood dynasties. And, really, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that the Smith family is second to any other. For decades, Will and Jada have starred on the silver screen, gaining worldwide recognition and acclaim, as well as widespread adoration. Add to that the fact that there are three Smith children — Trey (Will’s son with ex-wife Sheree Zampino), Jaden, and Willow — and now you basically have a royal family.

The Smiths weren’t always famous, though. In fact, Jada’s origin story that’s as humble as it gets and it’s pretty impressive that she’s come so far and done so well for herself. Chalk that up to pure talent and raw ingenuity, as well as the determination to succeed. 

So just where is Jada from? What was she like in the very beginning and how did she get to where she is today? Read on to witness her incredibly stunning transformation.

Jada Pinkett Smith was raised in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Baltimore

On September 18, 1971, Jada Pinkett Smith was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She was raised the the Park Heights neighborhood, which she has described as “a neighborhood full of desperate, uneducated people who were brought down and oppressed by their lack of opportunity” (via The Baltimore Sun). She continued, saying, “I look back and go: ‘How did I make it out of there?'” Given that as of 2017, more than half of the children in the southern part of the area lived below the poverty line, it’s pretty impressive that she did.

Perhaps her inspiration to dream of bigger things had to do with where she went to school: the Baltimore School for the Arts. As one of the top five performing arts schools in the country, the institution aims to change children’s lives with the power of art. Something must have lit a fire in Pinkett Smith there, as she later donated a million dollars to the school, according to Philanthropy News Digest. She asked that the theater be dedicated to her former classmate, the legendary Tupac Shakur.

Jada Pinkett Smith dealt drugs as a teenager

Fans of Jada Pinkett Smith know that she was once good friends with Tupac Shakur, who attended the same school as her in Baltimore. And because opportunities were scarce for Pinkett Smith in her neighborhood, she did what she had to to get by. “One of the things that’s very interesting that I’ve never really said before is that when I first met Pac, when we first met, I was a drug dealer,” she revealed in an interview with Sway’s Universe

Pinkett Smith didn’t stay in that hustle for very long, as she says something “very bad happened” to her, which she did not elaborate on. Unfortunately, Shakur did remain in that lifestyle, until his untimely death in 1996, as noted by The New Yorker

Despite the rumors, Shakur and Pinkett Smith were never more than good friends, said Pinkett Smith. “Pac and [my] relationship was about survival,” she continued. “That’s how it started. I know that most people want to always connect it in this romance thing and that’s just because they don’t have the story.”

At a young age, Jada Pinkett Smith was called to acting

After graduating from the Baltimore School for the Arts, where Jada Pinkett Smith studied acting and dancing, Pinkett Smith picked up and moved to Los Angeles to try her hand in Hollywood. However, she didn’t exactly know what she was doing when she was just starting out. “My first headshot that I did, it was so ghetto,” she recalled in a chat with Elle. “These long nails, with my name, and the guy’s name that I was dating at the time, painted on my nails.”

Despite her initial lack of polish, Pinkett Smith managed to start booking gigs, which, in retrospect, surprises her. “I don’t know how anyone brought me in for anything with that freaking headshot,” she continued. Maybe someday she’ll post it for all of us to see.

Although Pinkett Smith didn’t get the role she auditioned for in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1990 (via Glamour), she did meet a young Will Smith for the first time on that set. She must have made quite the impression!

Jada Pinkett Smith rose to the top after her breakout role in A Different World

After appearing in a handful of shows in small parts, Jada Pinkett Smith got her big break. In 1991, she was cast as Lena James in the comedy A Different World, which opened many doors for her. “It really put me on the map,” she explained to Entertainment Weekly. “It was the first role that I had that I got the kind of exposure that gave me the opportunities to star in movies.”

The show was especially popular in the Black community and it inspired many young people to attend historically Black colleges and universities. For that reason, Pinkett Smith would love to see a new version of the show rebooted today. “I would love to see kids of color back in school, and what college life is like, and the trials of going into the world with a college diploma,” she shared in an interview with The Grio.  She added that it would be interesting to see how those issues play out in the modern era versus the early ’90s when the show was on television.

Jada Pinkett Smith starred in many projects in the '90s and early aughts

After Jada Pinkett Smith became famous for her work on A Different World, her celebrity started to skyrocket very quickly. She secured starring roles in a plethora of popular films, such as Menace II Society, The Inkwell, Jason’s Lyric, and Set It Off, to name just a few. These movies minted her as an in-demand Hollywood actress who helped show the world what life in Black America looked like. 

One important point that Pinkett Smith brought up is that some of these films were marketed exclusively as Black films for Black audiences. “Hollywood didn’t understand at that time that just because you have a Black cast, it doesn’t make it a Black movie,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “Today Hollywood is starting to understand that stories are universal even that are starring all Black people.” Does that mean we’ll finally get a Set It Off remake?

Pinkett Smith also landed roles in films like The Nutty Professor, Scream 2, and, in the early 2000s, both sequels in The Matrix franchise. Our girl was certainly on fire!

Jada Pinkett Smith married her soulmate in 1997

While Jada Pinkett Smith is a celebrity of the highest caliber in her own right, she’s also quite known for her long-term romance with Will Smith, one of the biggest actors ever to grace a Hollywood sound stage. After meeting briefly in 1990 on the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the pair became friends. They became even closer after Will’s first marriage dissolved in 1995. “I helped him understand what happened in his marriage,” Jada explained People. Not long after that, the couple realized not only that they were in love, but that they were soulmates.

Shortly thereafter, Will and Jada became one of the highest profile celeb couples in SoCal and, in November 1997, Will popped the big question. “One day we got engaged,” Jada continued. “And the next day we found out we were pregnant.” Talk about timing!

Will and Jada got married on New Year’s Eve in 1997, in a highly secretive wedding at The Cloisters in Baltimore attended by friends and family. And though things haven’t always been perfect, it’s clear that the duo is meant to be.

Jada Pinkett Smith became a mom soon after getting married

On July 8, 1998, Jada Pinkett Smith became a mother for the first time when she gave birth to her son, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, according to MTV News. Will Smith previously welcomed his first son Trey, in 1992. On Halloween two years after Jaden’s birth, Pinkett Smith brought Willow Camille Reign Smith into the world, as noted by ABC News.

Pinkett Smith understood that when she decided to have children, it was going to be different not just from her own childhood, but also her partner’s. “We asked for these harsh lights of Hollywood,” she told Fox News. “We actually went in search for them and then we had children.” Given that her kids never asked for that level of scrutiny, Pinkett Smith was sensitive to their predicament.

While Pinkett Smith was happy to become a mother, it was not without its challenges. To that end, she said she wished she’d listened sooner to her husband’s advice about putting her own figurative oxygen mask on first. “You can’t do something for anyone else if you don’t have oxygen,” she shared with People.

Jada Pinkett Smith had a breakdown when she turned 40

When Jada Pinkett Smith turned 40 years old, she said she had something of a breakdown. After getting married and having children, her career slowly having waned, she found herself at a crossroads. “It was the beginning of a huge transition in my life,” she revealed in an interview with The Cut. “I raised my kids, I’ve helped Will build everything that he’s ever wanted. I was like, ‘The second half has got to be for me.'”

To that end, Pinkett Smith decided to leave the bright lights of Hollywood behind in favor of the opportunities awaiting her in the Big Apple. There she accepted the role of the villain Fish Mooney on the Batman universe show Gotham, and immersed herself in a world away from her family. Pinkett Smith also had ample time to be by herself and meditate on what her next move would be.

Gotham inspired Jada Pinkett Smith to keep pursuing her career

The decision to uproot her life and head to New York City couldn’t have been an easy one for Jada Pinkett Smith to make. But, looking back, the actress feels it was definitely the right move as she wasn’t sure what her future would look like. “There was definitely a time in my career, or have been several times, that I put it to the side and had no intention of returning,” she confessed to Fox News

Fortunately, the work she did during this time turned out to be exactly what she needed. “Gotham kind of sparked me in a new creative way to bring me back into the industry, because I was definitely on the verge of letting it go, for sure,” she continued.

After scoring a role in Gotham, Pinkett Smith went on to snag parts in several high-profile Hollywood films, including Magic Mike XXL in 2015 and Bad Moms in 2016, as noted by her IMDb profile. It would seem that Pinkett Smith was anything but done and, instead, still had a few tricks up her sleeve.

Jada Pinkett Smith had fun surprising people in Girls Trip

In addition to Magic Mike XXL and Bad Moms, Jada Pinkett Smith was also cast in the 2016 comedy Girls Trip, along with Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, and Tiffany Haddish. Given that there were some raunchy scenes in the film, it was a departure for Pinkett Smith — but she was 100 percent on board after reading the script. “I always like doing stuff that people won’t expect me to do,” she shared in a chat with Entertainment Tonight.

In particular, Pinkett Smith was referring to a scene in which her character accidentally “[pees] on a crowd” of people while sitting in a swing, something very few people would expect of Pinkett Smith. “But the Jada that I am definitely would,” she continued. “That’s the part that’s hilarious.”

All jokes aside, Pinkett Smith also loved Girls Trip because of the camaraderie that it showed between Black women. “What really filled my heart with so much joy was that, not only was this movie embraced by Black women, but it was embraced by women of all cultures that found something relatable in this movie,” she told Elle.

This is why Jada Pinkett Smith started Red Table Talk

The true herald of the long-awaited Jada-sance was the debut of the actress’ talk show, Red Table Talk, in 2018. Featuring Jada Pinkett Smith alongside her daughter and mother, the program was inspired by Pinkett Smith’s real-life experiences. “I guess at this point in my life, I’ve really been doing a lot of interior work,” she explained in an interview with NPR. “The women and the people who had the courage to be very transparent with me with certain aspects of their journey really, really helped my journey tremendously.” That made her wonder why people don’t talk so candidly more often.

The women on Red Table Talk address all sorts of hot-button issues, including race, sexuality, infidelity, and family. The goal? To have real discussions that help not only those at the table, but the millions of people who watch it. “I really want to create conversation where people don’t have to feel like they’re alone,” Pinkett Smith continued. 

Jada Pinkett Smith had a revelation about her body in 2019

On a pleasant May evening in 2019, Jada Pinkett Smith and her family stepped out onto the red carpet at the premiere of Aladdin, in which Will Smith played the genie. Well, if you saw Willow Smith that night in her stunning deep V, open-back gown your jaw probably dropped — and so did Jada’s. “I looked to Will and said, ‘Dude, this is probably the first time I realized, like, I’m Mom,'” she revealed in a chat with The Cut. “Those days for me — the legs out, back out at the same time, that’s over.” Of course, Pinkett Smith knows full-well that she could do it, but she just doesn’t want to anymore. 

She isn’t mad about it though, or even salty. “It’s a moment between a mother and daughter when you realize, ‘It’s okay, she’s got the ingenue hot. That space is over for you, boo,'” she continued. No matter what flavor of hot Jada feels these days, it’s obvious that she just gets more gorgeous with age. 

In 2020, Jada Pinkett Smith called herself to the red table

Over the years, Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith’s marriage has been the subject of much public scrutiny, as reported by Vulture. Did they or didn’t they have an open marriage? Have either of them had a relationship with anyone else? It’s no wonder that on several occasions, the couple took to social media to halt the gears of the rumor mill.

However, things came to a boil in 2020 when musician August Alsina publicly stated that he and Jada had been romantically involved in the past. He claimed that they had Will’s blessing, but in the end, he felt he’d given too much time to someone who ultimately didn’t reciprocate his feelings. With everything blowing up, Jada announced on Twitter that she was calling herself to the red table.

In the episode, Will and Jada cleared the air. Jada admitted to having an “entanglement” with Alsina and clarified that it had happened when she and Will were broken up. And while the conversation was certainly tense in parts, in the end the couple was giggling together as usual, confirming that you go through a lot with your ride-or-die.

Jada Pinkett Smith is finally carving her own lane

What a life Jada Pinkett Smith has had! From a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Baltimore to the highest echelon of Hollywood royalty, Pinkett Smith has a lot to be proud of. With a film and television résumé that spans decades, a successful marriage, and gorgeous children that are already making waves in the world, Pinkett Smith has seriously undergone a stunning transformation.

But it’s in her later years that the star has finally been able to be successful on her own terms, no longer hampered by previous obstacles. “As an older woman, you really have to set out to carve your own lane,” she proclaimed in an interview with The Cut. “I’m carving my own lane.”

As for what comes next for Pinkett Smith? There’s a good chance we’ll see her reprise her role as Niobe in The Matrix 4, as noted by Deadline. And given that Red Table Talk is red hot, we can’t wait to see revelations Pinkett Smith will coax out next.

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