It was a family affair at Nickelodeon’s 2011 Kids’ Choice Awards, as Willow Smith and other young stars took the spotlight — while the adults hoped to avoid getting slimed.
From Jane Fonda to Miley Cyrus, the world has always had a love-hate attraction to celebrity children who follow their parents into showbiz. Are they talented in their own right, or just catching a free ride on mom and dad’s famous coattails? And as new celebrity children emerge, critics will inevitably take swipes. The latest target is Willow Smith, Will and Jada Smith’s 9-year-old daughter, whose “Whip My Hair” song and video became a viral sensation late last year. Willow and her Karate Kid brother, Jaden, were the subjects of a series of disparaging tweets from, of all people, Waiting to Exhale novelist Terry McMillan, who seemed to take Will and Jada to task for putting their offspring in the spotlight at such a young age. McMillan tweeted:
“It feels like the Smith children are being pimped and exploited. Or, they’re already hungry for fame. What about 4th grade?”
“The Smith children already act like child stars. There’s an arrogance in their demeanor and behavior. I find it incredibly sad.”
“These kids don’t already know what they “love.” Total bull****. They’re not prodigies. They think Hollywood is real.”
McMillan later apologized, but the damage had already been done. The truth is, both Jaden and Willow come across as precocious kids who emanate the same star quality as their mom and dad, and I’m sure their parents felt they were both ready. Willow, in particular, projects a strong and sassy demeanor, with her shaved head, pierced fingernails, and rhinestones on her lips. She’s different; but is it fair to automatically assume that she’s consumed by celebrity and an arrogant brat?
As McMillan suggests, it is reasonable to assume that a 9-year-old does not yet know what she wants out of life yet, but what would McMillan recommend as an alternative for a talented child in a position like Willow’s? Should she try out for the school play instead of auditioning for daddy’s next movie?
It is far too easy to label young, privileged talent as arrogant and undeserving. But, c’mon, she’s 9 for goodness sakes — too young to fully understand the depth of her privilege! She’s simply fearless, most likely because she has lived a life free of hardship. She sees mommy and daddy working hard doing the things that they love and getting rewarded for it. In her world, hard work equals success.
Willow’s parents have encouraged her to explore her talents and live fearlessly. Is this risky parenting? Are they allowing her to grow up too fast? Perhaps, but Will and Jada’s world is not ours. Having both been young stars themselves, perhaps they understand the dangers of showbiz culture better than most and will protect their children from the snares while empowering them to shine.
The bottom line is, what parent wouldn’t do everything they could to help their child to pursue her dreams? For some, it means weekly trips to the gym for gymnastics training or to the ice rink for figure-skating lessons. For others, it may mean basketball camp or piano lessons. It’s no different with the rich and famous, except they have advantages that most of us do not. It doesn’t always seem fair, and that is why some of us harbor such resentment toward people like the Smiths.
The Smith kids were the beneficiaries of instant fame for doing stuff that some people work a whole career at without any noteworthy results. McMillan suggests only prodigies should be allowed this type of success and notoriety, but I say you can’t blame Willow and Jaden for having been born into a successful showbiz family. Rather than bash them, we should pray that they survive the obstacles of young celebrity without too many scrapes, and that they’ll perhaps one day use their fame to do good in the world, or at least something more productive than criticizing folks on Twitter.
Photo by Harry Wad from Wikipedia.