Posts Tagged ‘jaden smith’

The story of unlikely friendship and triumph hit familiar notes, but I was seeing something new. Jaden Smith was playing a black boy in three dimensions: vulnerable, contemplative and in possession of a wholly formed interior world.

Maybe you’d have to be a black mother who has never seen her son on screen — or, more accurately, an image of a black boy who was everything I’d want my son to grow into.

The movie, which was No. 4 in box-office gross heading into the July 4 weekend, stars the son of Hollywood power duo Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who produced it. I noted the subtleties of Jaden Smith’s portrayal from the opening scene. Smith, as 12-year-old Dre Parker, claps hands with a friend who gives him his skateboard as a parting gift when he and his mother move from Detroit to China where her factory job has been relocated.

With his cornrows, pop-lock dance moves and whassup vernacular, Smith has the signposts of urban youth. But there is nothing cartoonishly black about him.

On a recent Friday in Bowie, Herbert and Johanna Bruce took in a showing. Smith’s character “faces his fears without compromise, without becoming a thug, and he wasn’t trying to be a lover of the honeys,” Herbert Bruce said.

Often in popular culture, vulnerability is derided and feminized in boys of all races, and for young black boys, it’s especially “clowned,” or hyperbolized, for effect. In this movie, Smith’s vulnerability is merely human.

“Even in 2010 it is very common to see young African American boys framed in pop culture as aggressive, violent, highly sexualized, I would even say criminalized,” said Byron Hurt, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who specializes in black masculinity issues. He recalled an episode of NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” that he found “deplorable,” with portrayals of black teens that traded in every stock image of black male aggression, street savvy and hypersexuality. A group was teaching a younger black boy to steal cars. Another was a jock who was “over the top maniacal, with no regard for other kids. . . . His whole persona completely centered around his physicality.”

White male characters are often given back stories to soften their transgressions, Hurt said. Smith gives his character that same complexity and depth. “You see Jaden’s performance and you’re stunned [because] most of what you have seen are images that feed into myths, stereotypes and caricatures.”

Algernon Mathews, his wife Angela, his son Dante, 11, and daughter Angelica, 9, appreciated Smith’s character. “Even when he was getting beat up, he didn’t go get a gun,” Algernon said. “He stood his ground and asked for help.”

By movie’s end, when an injured Karate Kid pleads with his friend and teacher Jackie Chan to help him fight his last round, I knew my son was feeling both Dre Parker’s fight, and his heart. He’s too young to fully engage with pop culture and he hasn’t yet seen his fullness erased in all the ways I’ve seen black boys erased in movies and television.

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Taraji P. Henson plays the mother of Jaden Smith’s character in the new Karate Kid movie, but the actress reveals it wasn’t all fun and games filming in China. Pop the hood for her words

Taraji did an interview with’s Allison Kugel recently. Check out some excerpts below: What was it like having to live there for a while and immerse yourself into the Chinese culture?

Taraji P. Henson: At first when you land, it’s like “Oh my God, I’m so excited!” You’re there for awhile and then you realize it’s a communist country and you ain’t in Kansas City anymore, you know? I kind of take on things sometimes, and I felt myself a little depressed sometimes. I had to snap myself out of it. It’s just a different way of living. When I watched the movie it felt like Beijing was this fun, cosmopolitan city. But you really felt the black cloud of communism over your everyday living when you were there?

Taraji P. Henson: Well I won’t say that, because if you stick to the touristy attractions, no. But I’m always the one to venture off. I like to go to where the people live and to where the pulse of the city is, the people who make the city run. So I was all in the hutongs. I ventured off the beaten path. And that’s when you can feel the weight. And then I started talking to a lot of the locals. They smile, but you know, it’s like when you’ve lived a certain way and then you go to different cultures. It’s like, dag! You realize how lucky you are! It wasn’t all bad. The people are beautiful. They smile, the cater to you, they really want you to have a good time. The plus side I did see is that because they are not driven by material things, that was the beauty. You know here in America we’re so driven by what kind of car you have, and what kind of house and what kind of shoes and bag you’re carrying. There it’s the bare necessities, and that’s refreshing. And our karma is catching up with us here in the states.

Taraji P. Henson: Uh, yeah ya think (laughs)! Obviously you didn’t have to train for any of the movie’s Kung Fu scenes, but did you take any Kung Fu lessons while you were in Beijing?

Taraji P. Henson: No, I left that up to Jaden (laughs). I’m not really into martial arts. I’m a lover, not a fighter. Both you and Jaden were working with so many Chinese actors. How did you find that cultural gap was when you were working? And did Jackie Chan help to bridge that cultural gap for you with the Chinese actors?

Taraji P. Henson: Jackie Chan absolutely helped to bridge that gap. A lot of the time the extras wouldn’t know what in the world the PAs were saying or what to do, and Jackie would just kind of translate. We also had a translator on the set as well. But it was weird at first. It was always a delayed reaction. They’d go, “Action!” and then they’d have to translate in Chinese, and then we’d all start. What inspired Will Smith to re-make The Karate Kid?

Taraji P. Henson: He was trying to search around and find a perfect vehicle for [Jaden] and then he just thought about this movie. And I thought it was a great idea. I wish I was Jaden (laughs). Were you a fan of the original Karate Kid?

Taraji P. Henson: I still have a crush on Ralph Macchio! Ralph Macchio then or middle aged bloated Ralph Macchio?

Taraji P. Henson: (Laughs) Ralph Macchio then. You, yourself, are a single mom. And I remember reading about you moving from DC, where you are from, to Los Angeles with your son to pursue your acting career. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels with this character.

Taraji P. Henson: That is what I noticed when I read [the script]. At the time California was my Beijing. It was the unknown world for me. I had visited California when I was two. I moved 3,000 miles away from everything that I knew and loved, and took a chance; just me and my baby. Is that what attracted you to the role of Sherry Parker in The Karate Kid?

Taraji P. Henson: Absolutely. First, I always have to be attracted to the material. And then I’m a huge fan of The Karate Kid, and just a huge fan of Will and what he has been able to accomplish, and the Smith family in general. And I love Jaden. I just wanted to be a part of it, and why not? Go to another country on someone else’s dime, and you get to work and do what you love to do. That’s what actors dream of. I read that you actually worked at The Pentagon at one point in your life. What was that experience like?

Taraji P. Henson: It was interesting. I guess I really didn’t get where I was working. I knew where it was and all of that, but I really didn’t get it! This might sound really sad, until 9-11. I was like, “Wow. I was working in a place where terrorists target.” It is the Department of Defense, but I couldn’t really fathom the [meaning]. I was a college kid, and I was an art student so I just knew that I had a job and I could go shopping (laughs). You know what I mean? My dad was in the service, but by the time I grew up he was done. He fought in [Viet] ‘nam and things like that, but I didn’t really get it. Yeah, we would have bomb threats and things like that, but again, I was an artist. So when 9-11 happened and they targeted The Pentagon, I was like, “Oh my God! I used to walk down that corridor every day.” How did you go about bonding with Jaden Smith to create that mother/son dynamic that comes across on the screen?

Taraji P. Henson: Before we went away to Beijing, we had rehearsals here in California for like a two week period. That gave us a chance to bond here, and then once we got to Beijing we had more rehearsal time and alone time. Will and Jada, they just created such an easy and free atmosphere and they gave us the space to create that bond. He is like one of my friends for life, that little kid. I love him, and I kind of feel like I’m his mom in a weird way (laughs); a screen mom, if you will.

Jada Pinkett-Smith, confirmed the news while being interviewed at her son’s movie premiere for The Karate Kid. She said:

“I am pleased to say my daughter, Willow, will be putting out an album soon and I look forward to enjoying music through her creations. I am excited about that, and she’s pretty awesome. She will be better at it then I ever could be anyway!”

Little Jaden Smith is following in the foot steps of his dad to the fullest. Justin Bieber put out a new jawn for the movie “Karate Kid” starring Jaden Smith but then Jaden turned around and jumped on the track. This is his debut and he’s already throwing jabs in bars…