Having enjoyed Jaden Smith’s performance in The Pursuit of Happyness, (a film I liked very much) but uninterested in his current flick, The Karate Kid I had somehow missed the pop-controversy over whether or not young Jaden is a likable kid, or a brat.
He seems quite alright, to me. In fact, the kid seems better than alright; he may be that Hollywood creature so rarely-seen-in-public, the product of a happy childhood. Jaden Smith strikes me as an intelligent and mannerly kid who spends the bulk of his time with adults who do not condescend to him. He says he is close to his brother, Trey, and his mother, Jada Pinkett Smith has a longstanding reputation as a forthright, no-nonsense sort of woman. What I see is a young man with his father’s charming ease of manner, his mother’s directness, and the sort of age-inappropriate-seeming confidence one may pick up while spending time with an older sibling; it dissolves when he grouses about not being able to kick his sister. None of that seems obnoxious to me. On the contrary, aside from his propensity to do that annoying strut-with-hand-wagging-thing that 11 year old boys currently do, I find Jaden Smith utterly refreshing.
What is obnoxious is the smugly lazy determination by Entertainment Magazine’s Owen Gleiberman (whose reviews I enjoyed, 20 years ago; perhaps he is too long insulated in his job) that anyone who finds Jaden Smith to be less-than-charming must be a racist!
I wonder how Jaden Smith would respond to that condescending message: don’t worry, kid, the fault can’t be yours; they’re just racist. They can’t get past your skin color. And I can project that on to them, because I am fixated on race; I am hyper-aware of your race specifically so I can call-out others for their racism, but I’m not racist, myself. I’m just race-fixated; that’s a good thing. It means I’m sensitive and tolerant. I can see the whole person you are, through the prism of your skin color, and I love it all, and anyone who doesn’t love it sees you only through the prism of your skin color; and that is what makes them racist. But I’m not racist; they are. I’m just, you know, aware of how racist the world is except for, you know, us; people like me and you. Did you know you’re black, Jaden? Not that there’s anything wrong with that . . . it’s just that’s why they hate you. If you were white, that hand-wagging thing would be a turn-off, and some older Americans might think you’re not humble enough before your elders; if you were Asian, forget about it! You’d be a disgrace! But in your case, anyone who doesn’t love you can only be a racist. I know this because when I see a person, I don’t see the person first; I see what identity-group they belong to, and make my determinations accordingly.
Jaden Smith is an 11 year old boy with the conversation skills of a thirty year old. He seems pretty self-aware, too, and wise to the world around him. David Letterman talked to him in the pandering tones that most kids despise but do not feel free to reject. Smith did feel free and he answered like an adult. I liked that; he reminded me of my own kids, and my nieces. Having endured a timid childhood where I dared not speak up or defend myself, I am happy when I see children exhibit intelligence, confidence and well-defined boundaries.
But others may not find it charming. People have their own ideas of what children should be like, and how they should comport themselves around adults. Those ideas–whether anachronistic or not–have nothing to do with race; they are not adjusted in accordance with melanin levels. It is the authentic racist who fixates on that stuff, and uses it either to excuse or accuse.
Doubtless Gleiberman would not find his rush to project racism onto others to be evidence of something unsavory within himself, but I wonder if he realizes how he has exposed himself as intellectually lazy, and insensible. John Nolte, writing at Big Hollywood, notes Gleiberman’s illogical self-contradictions:
I’m forced to interrupt this critic-ry insightfulness in order to salute Gleiberman for doing the incredible detective work needed to uncover the stunning fact that the very same people who once praised Jaden Smith’s performance in “The Pursuit of Happyness” are now lashing out at him due to the color of his skin.
Imagine the amount of journalism that went into discovering this red-hot smoking gun of hypocrisy. Imagine the comment boards our intrepid critic must’ve scoured throughout Al Gore’s brainchild to compare and connect various IP addresses to years-old opinions of Jaden’s performance in “Happyness” until, UNTIL, UNTIL!… Aha! Look! The very same people who once loved Young Smith now don’t…because he’s black!
Jaden Smith may not be “adorable” as he was, six years ago. That’s because 11 year-old boys are not especially “adorable.” They are challenging and exasperating, as any parent knows. It’s possible that some of the people who loved him when he was 5, find him to be 11, now. Not everyone loves 11.
I suspect that Gleiberman simply needs to get out more, and mingle with ordinary folk for a while. He might find out, ala Archie Bunker, that among us great unwashed there are “some good ones,” who seem sane and reasonable. He might even discover that in real life very few people will see a kid get the better of another too-comfortable, too-bitter man in a too-insulated world and put aside long-held ideas on comportment, in order to fixate on race.