Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith Have Been Separated for Seven Years. Wait, What?

You’re not imagining it: Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock are, woefully, trending again. No, it’s not because of the 2022 slap heard around the world—not exclusively, at least. On Wednesday, NBC released a clip from an upcoming interview between Jada and Today’s Hoda Kotb that includes Jada’s bombshell confession that she and Will have been separated since 2016. While this news seemingly impacts nothing in the near future, it does carry enormous historical implications, shedding new light on plenty of the couple’s moments in the past—including the infamous slapping incident. Below, I attempt to guide you through what this latest plot twist means for one of Hollywood’s biggest mainstays.

I thought we were done caring about Will and Jada’s relationship.

I really, really wish we were, but apparently we are not! Lord knows life is hard enough without having to hear about this annoyingly overpublicized marriage, but I consider it my professional duty to report to you from the front lines of the Hollywood relationship that won’t stop resurrecting itself in the public discourse every couple of years.

You are God’s strongest soldier.

I am merely taking up the mantle of Slate’s own Rachelle Hampton, who has reported on the Smiths for years, rightfully dubbing them the “goofy uncle and bougie aunt of Black celebrity culture”—which explains their incredible staying power in the canons of both Famous Black Aspirations and Famous Black Shenanigans.

So, let’s get into Jada’s latest spilled Lipton, which begins with a clip, published on Wednesday, of an upcoming prime-time NBC special that will air on Friday. In this clip, Jada—who is promoting her memoir, Worthy, which publishes Oct. 17—revealed to interviewer Hoda Kotb that she and Will have actually been separated since 2016, though they are not legally divorced. For the numerically challenged in the room, that’s seven years of being apart. Seven years in which a lot has happened between the two.

Right, this is ringing a bell. Something about an “entanglement”?

Ding-ding-ding! That’s certainly one of the biggest scandals that is being reappraised in light of this new information. The cursed among us might recall when, back in 2020, R&B singer August Alsina confirmed that he had had a yearslong relationship with the presumably still-married Jada. The revelation of this assumed affair—which Jada, the queen of obfuscation, hilariously dubbed an “entanglement” when she and Will discussed it on her now-defunct online talk show Red Table Talk—not only turned the word “entanglement” into a meme, but also revived latent decadeslong rumors about the rickety status of Will and Jada’s marriage. In light of Jada’s most recent confession, it is now clear that Alsina was perhaps too harshly mocked for his dalliance with a woman who, it turns out, is practically—even if not legally—divorced (though, it should be noted, the 21-year age gap between the entanglement participants is part of what raised some eyebrows).

  Willard Christopher Smith J

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Wait, back up—tell me about these decadeslong rumors. Is that why Will and Jada separated?

In response to Kotb’s question of why their partnership dissolved, Jada merely said the relationship fractured for “a lot” of reasons, but by 2016 they were “just exhausted with trying,” too stuck in their “fantasy of what we thought the other person should be.”

The two have long been assumed to have an open marriage, whispers that were shut down by Jada in 2013, a few years before murmurs about the two heading for divorce were discredited by Will in 2015 (interesting timing, considering we now know they would separate a year later). However, these rumors never went away, and continued to be fed by the couple calling each other “life partners,” as opposed to husband and wife—language that Alsina himself used in debunking the idea that his situationship with Jada was some secret torrid affair. On the Red Table Talk episode about the Alsina relationship, Will and Jada stated that they were, indeed, separated at the time. But, as Rachelle Hampton rightfully pointed out, their response to the whole scandal was just a new way to refute all the previous rumors about the demise of their highly romanticized union.

OK, so this shocking news is actually not that surprising. What else happened in these past seven years that might need a reassessment with this, erm, revelatory confession?

Well, there’s also the issue of The Slap.

I was trying to forget about that.

Me, too, but you asked! There is no one to blame but yourself.

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I’m sorry for the both of us, then. If I remember correctly, while hosting the 2022 Academy Awards, Chris Rock made a joke about Jada’s shaved head—even though her struggles with alopecia are on public record—and Will, who didn’t find it funny, slapped him on prime-time TV in front of Hollywood’s biggest stars on Hollywood’s biggest night, yelling, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.” And then, moments later, he went on stage to accept the award for Best Actor for the film King Richard.

That’s pretty much it, yes! Will apologized months later, after being banned from attending the Oscars and other Academy events for 10 years as punishment. A lot has been reported since, like the excavation of Rock’s weird history of making jokes about Jada, and the realization that this whole “feud” started between the actress and the comedian years before. The brain-numbing discourse and subsequent discoveries all continued to be revived with the release of Rock’s comedy special earlier this year.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much this latest news changes the idea of what happened that fateful night. Throughout Will and Jada’s “marriage”—regardless of rumors of separation, actual separation, or not—they have maintained that they are still partners, in some form or another. Their separation doesn’t change the fact that, in Will’s eyes, he was defending someone he cares about and the mother of his children. As for his methodology, well, the world has discussed that many times over already.

Now, what might change one’s perspective on this is the other leaked tidbit from Jada’s book: that Rock allegedly asked Jada out on a date amid the ever-swirling rumors that she and Will were divorcing. She declined because, as she allegedly explained to Rock, the rumors were false. Jada also sneakily adds in an assertion that Will has beef with Rock that stems from the “late ’80s,” so that’s more previously unconfirmed info for us to chew on. Knowing this, Rock’s fixation on Jada could be painted as a product of something much more, but I’m sure there’s even more that we don’t know about the complex dynamic among these three.

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Why is this the first time we’re hearing about Will and Jada’s long separation? I’m not mistaken in thinking that they have blatantly lied about their relationship status, right?

Yes and no. Technically, they are still legally married, so all of the assertions that they are still “together” or “married” aren’t untrue. Are they misleading as hell? Sure, but they’re not lies, per se. As for why they didn’t come right out and say they’re separated, Jada tells Kotb that they weren’t ready yet and were still trying to figure out “how to be in partnership,” let alone how to present their relationship status to people.

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So why didn’t they just get divorced?

As Jada explains in the clip, she considered legal divorce, but couldn’t go through with it because they “made a promise that there will never be a reason” to get a divorce, that they could “work through whatever.” Although they live separately, she says she hasn’t “been able to break that promise.”

What does this change?

God, nothing, really! It doesn’t change anything about the fact that Will and Jada have been supportive of each other in public. The truth is, this is a couple that has been married for nearly 20 years, has a family, and has learned to co-parent and coexist peacefully while being separated. Just because they are not together doesn’t mean that they will stop supporting each other or forcing all of us, myself included, to repeatedly learn intimate details about their lives against our will. Now if you excuse me, I have to reset Slate’s big safety scoreboard to “zero days since the last Smiths incident” and then go think about literally anything else.