We All Need a Gammy in Our Lives Right Now

Last June, “Red Table Talk” tackled the subject of polyamory. Adrienne Banfield-Norris, one of the hosts, said that she thought polyamory was just an excuse to have sexual relations with more than one person.

“I’m listening to you guys and I’m trying to stay open-minded,” she said. “But my gut tells me this is a bunch of frackle nackle.”

That kind of frankness has earned Ms. Banfield-Norris, 65, a loyal following. (By the end of the episode, she said she had a better understanding of why multiple people may enter into a relationship.) Ms. Banfield-Norris hosts the show on Facebook Watch with her daughter, the actress and producer Jada Pinkett Smith, 48, and her granddaughter Willow Smith, 19, an artist.

“I think people have this idea that Jada and I are so close and it’s this amazing mother-daughter relationship,” Ms. Banfield-Norris said in an interview. “It absolutely is not. And I don’t think that we’ve ever tried to portray it that way. I think people want to believe that it is that.”

For most of Ms. Pinkett Smith’s upbringing, Ms. Banfield-Norris struggled with drugs. She said that when she graduated at the top of her nursing school class at Coppin State University, she was in the throes of an addiction to heroin.

Things fell apart further when Ms. Banfield-Norris’s mother died, which also left Ms. Pinkett Smith with one less escape from a dysfunctional home.

Compared with Ms. Banfield-Norris’s connection with Willow (who, along with family, friends and some of the “Red Table Talk” crew, calls her Gammy), which she described as “lighthearted and fun,” her relationship with Ms. Pinkett Smith is much more serious.

Today, Ms. Banfield-Norris has been sober in recovery for 29 years. When asked how her relationship with her daughter was mended, she said, “People have to actually see and experience the change in you. And that’s what Jada saw. That’s what Jada saw in me.”

The new season of “Red Table Talk” was set to premiere on March 23, but, like much of the world during the new coronavirus pandemic, the full season is on pause.

Recently, the whole family, including Ms. Pinkett Smith’s husband, Will Smith, and her stepson, Trey Smith (her son Jaden had been traveling, so he was self-isolating to protect Gammy), hosted two episodes on the spread of the new coronavirus. They brought on Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and Ramani Durvasula, a psychologist, to talk about managing health and anxiety.

“For me, it was also about trying to give people back some of their power in a time when people are feeling powerless,” Ms. Banfield-Norris said.

As for Ms. Banfield-Norris, she’s “practicing social distancing, but I am not isolating.” She’s staying in touch with family and friends, but limiting how much time she spends on social media.

Credit…Jim Spellman/WireImage

Ms. Banfield-Norris was born in Baltimore in 1953; her father was a physician and her mother was a social worker. “We were the epitome of black middle class,” she said.

She grew up going to the Baltimore Ethical Society, a congregation founded in 1950 that supports all religions and spiritual beliefs. Today Ms. Banfield-Norris considers herself a Christian.

“I’m still dealing with the effects of segregation and the civil rights movement and all kinds of topics around the issue of race,” she said of the era in which she was born. “And then in the state that the country is in right now, it just sends you back. It sends you back when you’re trying to move forward.”

At times, Ms. Banfield-Norris said, her opinions on race, infidelity and forgiveness can come off as “harsh”: “Sometimes I think, too, part of my issue is that I am very old school in my thinking.”

Conversations between Ms. Banfield-Norris, Ms. Pinkett Smith and Willow started years before the show began in 2018.

“Willow had been asking questions,” Ms. Banfield-Norris said. “And it dawned on Jada that there’s a lot of things that Willow just doesn’t know about us.” There were no lights or camera crew, but there was a kitchen table. One day, Ms. Pinkett Smith decided to record. The first video was posted in 2013.

In February 2019, Jordyn Woods appeared on “Red Table Talk” after it was reported that she was romantically involved with Tristan Thompson, a basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the father of Khloé Kardashian’s daughter. Ms. Woods had previously been close to the Kardashian-Jenner family.

The Woods and Smith families are longtime friends; Ms. Woods’s late father was a sound engineer on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” the 1990s television show that starred Mr. Smith.

The Jordyn Woods episode of “Red Table Talk” was viewed 33 million times and helped make the show a place where celebrities and everyday people could further explain their choices or struggles.

“As women, we’ve all let our little-girl behavior get us into some grown-woman mess,” Ms. Banfield-Norris said of the situation with Ms. Woods.

On another episode, Angela Tucker, a black woman adopted by white parents, said that she sometimes felt “fear” around other black people.

While Ms. Pinkett Smith and Willow offered support, Ms. Banfield-Norris said, “The thing that is troubling me just a little bit and I’d want you to clarify, if you can, is your use of the term ‘fear.’ The fear of black people. Where is that coming from that you use that term?”

(Ms. Tucker followed up with a blog post and said: “A more accurate statement is that as a result of several experiences being rejected by black culture, there have been times when I felt an illegitimacy.”)

Chelsea Handler has appeared on the show to discuss white privilege; Demi Moore — along with two of her daughters, Rumer and Tallulah Willis — joined to talk about her recovery from drug abuse; and T.I. came on after experiencing widespread backlash for saying he accompanies his daughter to her annual gynecology appointment to ensure her hymen is intact.

In 2019, “Red Table Talk” was Facebook Watch’s No. 1 original series in the United States, based on viewership. Its Facebook group has over 600,000 members.

Outside of the occasional television or film appearance in connection to her daughter, this is Ms. Banfield-Norris’s first on-camera job. In the future, she hopes to do voice-over work.

“The only reason I actually agreed to it was because it was Jada, and I knew that I would be safe,” she said. Still, “it has not been that comfortable. Sometimes I do have a hard time on the show finding my voice. It’s difficult.”

Despite her uncertainty at times, Ms. Banfield-Norris has become the gut check of the show that has gained her a new following. She’s the one the camera pans to when a guest or fellow host says something that needs a little more explaining. She offers the raised eyebrow. The extra blink. Or maybe she leans forward, puts her hand out and asks a question to help the guest get to where they’re going.

These days, Ms. Banfield-Norris lives in Baltimore and Los Angeles, where she recently bought a home, with her husband, Rodney Norris, 63. This is her fourth marriage and they have been married for three years.

Part of her recovery includes fitness and staying active, which she describes as part of her “get better plan.” The gym has helped her not only with sobriety (she also abstains from alcohol), but with codependency as well. She also likes to Chicago-style step — a form of swing dancing — and roller skates twice a week at Skateland in Northridge, Calif.

“I think there is so much stigma attached to addiction, and people have in their mind’s eye about what they think that person looks like, where they came from, who that person is,” she said. “You have no idea.”

She is also traveling and reading books, some that are part of her 12-step program for addiction recovery. With “Red Table Talk,” she hopes to send a reminder that older women are still vibrant.

“I would really like to bring women my age back to the forefront,” she said.


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