Pinkett-Smith talks directing and politics

By Thomas Pardee

Her husband may be one of Hollywood’s biggest actors, but Jada Pinkett-Smith is no housewife.

The seasoned actress was in Chicago on Oct. 28 for the red carpet premiere of her new film, The Human Contract, at the Chicago International Film Festival. Pinkett-Smith wrote, directed and starred as a supporting character in this sleeper drama about a successful businessman whose entire life is called into question when a strange and seductive woman happens into it.

Besides her upcoming film and TV projects, Pinkett-Smith is also a mother of three and an active humanitarian, tackling both the inner-city and the third world.

She spoke to a group of film students on Oct. 28 at Columbia’s Film Row Cinema in the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. She also spoke with The Chronicle about the Nov. 4 election and what making a movie about a man’s world taught her about the opposite sex.

The Chronicle: The presidential election is taking huge precedent right now, especially in Chicago. What are you hoping for as an American?

Jada Pinkett-Smith: Let me just say this. If Barack wins, it will show a real evolution in humanity, for many different reasons. To me, it will pretty much live up to my high hopes for who we are, truly, as human beings. This election will say a lot, and I really feel like it’s a time for huge change in the United States. I believe that Barack embodies that. So I’m just keeping my fingers crossed. It’s a tricky thing, but it will be a whole new America. If he wins, all over the world we will be granted a new slate, and that makes me happy. It brings tears to my eyes. There’s a lot of clean-up that we have to do, and I think Barack is the guy to do it.

How has the reception been so far for your new film, The Human Contract?

It’s been really good. This will be the first screening in the United States. It’s been really well received in Europe. There’s really kind of a European flare to the film. It’s not your in-the-box film, it’s not a blockbuster movie. It is nothing that you would expect me to do, which I love.

How does promoting your film as writer/director differ from promoting as an actor?

The expectation is a bit different. The questions are more in-depth about the material. [The focus is on] the purpose of making the film, getting to the foundation of why this project came to be and was created. As an actress, you’re the paint on the canvas, whereas as a director and a writer, you need to explain the canvas, the paint, the brushes, everything.

Generally speaking, your film is about a man who’s successful but forced to reexamine what success is all about when a new force enters his life. What prompted you to want to tell a story like that?

There are a lot of different messages. That’s one of them. Another is how secrets destroy us, how we can’t truly be who we are when we hold on to our secrets. Most of the time, the idea of what people consider to be successful is making good money and doing well at work, but you’re miserable. Is that really success? Is that the idea we’re really looking for? So [the film] is about [the main character’s] journey. He gets attached to this woman [played by Paz Vega], and she’s the piece, the missing component to his happiness, but what she reveals is the real missing component is himself, his authentic self.

By those standards, would you describe yourself as a successful person?

I think so. Right now I feel like I’m really happy in all areas of my word. I have a happy family life, a happy marriage, a happy professional life. I feel really whole and complete. You’ve got little things here and there-there’s always something, you know-but the foundation of my being is happy.

What’s the most important lesson you learned directing this film?

I told this story through the eyes of this very complicated, tormented guy. It really gave me some insight on the world of masculinity. I feel like I got a bit more understanding of the life of a man. It helped me in my relationships with the men in my life-my husband [Will Smith], my friends, my brother. It was really good for me to grow and develop as a woman, just having that reality and just in my interactions with men. That was really helpful.

What’s one of the biggest challenges of being a mother whose children have very successful parents to follow? What do you tell them?

The biggest lesson is just being true and staying true to yourself. Staying connected to that idea of what it takes to be a great human being. It doesn’t matter what you do, and how people respond to your work. It’s whether you’re a good person. We just try to be an example of what that is. You can’t fit that into any categories. If you decide to be a doctor, or if you continue in the business, at the end of the day what’s most important is being a good person.

Tell me a little about the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, which helps youth and inner-city families. What are you working on with that?

We usually find grassroot organizations within inner cities that need a little push, that need a little financial support. You got to reach out to the people who are actually in there, in the neighborhoods trying to make things happen, but who can’t get the support necessary to keep things going. We’re looking for people like that, who are creating programs for young men or young women, creating safe houses for young people to go to during the weekends or after school, or schools that might need books or computers. We want to help programs that aren’t supported by major organizations or the government, where you just have people who are passionate, who really care about the community and who are trying to make something happen.

What’s your next project?

As far as humanitarian work, Will and I are trying to figure out how to really penetrate Africa. We just came back [from Tanzania] with an organization called Malaria No More, where we gave out mosquito nets. Being there, we realized that Africa really needs industry. So we’re trying to figure out how to bring industry to different parts of Africa. We realize how much this community in Arusha [in northeast Tanzania] really grew after having a mosquito net factory built that hired about a thousand Africans. The whole community just flourished. We need to help bring more industry instead of just giving money and giving things. Africans are a very proud people. They don’t want to always be given fish. They want to know how to fish.


I’m just continuing writing and directing. I’m working on writing another project now, and I’ve go this TV show called “Time Heals” with TNT that I’m working on. I’ve got my hands full at this point.