Actress Jada Pinkett Smith has some advice for aspiring performers who want to follow in her footsteps.
“Don’t be the next Jada Pinkett Smith,” she said during a panel discussion last week at Morehouse College, during which she and producer Will Packer shared wisdom and inspiration. “We may be blueprints, but you have an opportunity to do far more. You will be able to stand on our shoulders. That is what you’re supposed to do. Take it even further and shape the world through your creativity.”
Packer gave students this directive: If you want to be a filmmaker, make a film. He worked on his first production, “Chocolate City,” while a student at Florida A&M University. (The low-budget 1994 indie isn’t to be confused with the 2015 major motion picture by the same name, with stars like Vivica A. Fox and Michael Jai White.)
“You know how it is in college: Everybody’s broke!” Packer said. But a slim bank account didn’t keep him and some of his college pals from pursuing their dreams, and having a finished product helped propel talks on future works, he said. “Don’t be an aspiring producer. Produce. Get something done.”
Smith and Packer collaborated on the summer’s comedy hit “Girls Trip:”
Last week, they were part of the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation’s Careers in Entertainment event at Morehouse, where more than 500 college and high school students interested in entertainment careers had the chance to hear from industry leaders, aim for internships and network. The foundation has staged similar events elsewhere, including New York and Washington. Georgia’s booming film industry made a stop in Atlanta — where Packer has shot films including the two “Ride Along” buddy comedies and “Almost Christmas” — a given.
“Morehouse College is proud to join the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation in hosting the Careers in Entertainment Tour,” Interim President Harold L. Martin Jr. said in a statement. “This new partnership between CIE Atlanta and the Morehouse College Cinema, Television & Emerging Media Studies Program will enhance programming for scholars at our college and inspire some to pursue impactful careers in the entertainment industry. At Morehouse, we have a legacy of producing leaders and creative thinkers who become game-changers in every sector, from business to the arts.”
With its stately, historically significant campus and blend of architectural styles, Morehouse has become a popular location for filmmakers. The domed Frederick Douglass Learning Resource Center had the perfect look for a NASA lab in “Hidden Figures,” the movie about African-American women who faced institutional racial and gender barriers as they performed vital roles key to launching NASA’s early missions.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed gave welcoming remarks, honoring Smith for her work as an actress and presenting a check for $19,000 on behalf of the city to the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation.
“It is great to be in the city of Atlanta today with so many talented young people who are ready to learn about the business of entertaining,” he said. After an initial round of applause, he spurred a rousing ovation by quipping, “Y’all better put more energy in that if y’all want some internships!”
At times during the panel discussion, moderated by CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield, Smith shared the same advice with the young folks packing the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center as she has given her own children, Jaden and Willow Smith.
“It’s what I told my kids, when my kids decided they wanted to be in this industry,” she began. “You will do things far better than your father and myself. It’ll be the lens of your world and your reality, which will be far different than what the world looked like when your father and I started our careers. The impact that they will make and they are making is quite different.”