Will Smith is reflecting on the moment that his son Jaden Smith — who is now known mononymously as Jaden — asked to be legally separated from his parents following the failure of their collaborative movie, After Earth.
If you didn’t know, Will and Jaden costarred in the 2013 postapocalyptic action movie, which marked one of Jaden’s first major acting gigs, when he was just 15 years old. Jaden’s mom, Jada Pinkett Smith, also co-produced the film.
However, the movie — which was directed by M. Night Shyamalan — was ultimately deemed unsuccessful, reportedly having made only $60 million in the United States off a $130 million budget and scoring a low rating of 11% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Much like the film itself, Jaden’s role was met with scathing reviews and negative criticism. In an interview with Esquire in 2015, Will called the movie the “most painful failure in [his] career.”
Now, in his upcoming memoir — which is due to hit shelves this week — Will is recalling the film’s “abysmal” failure, and the way it impacted his and Jaden’s relationship.
“After Earth was an abysmal box office and critical failure,” he writes, in an excerpt obtained by People. “And what was worse was that Jaden took the hit.”
“Fans and the press were absolutely vicious; they said and printed things about Jaden that I refuse to repeat,” he continues. “Jaden had faithfully done everything that I'd instructed him to do, and I had coached him into the worst public mauling he'd ever experienced.”
And Will says that the harsh criticism had such a severe impact on Jaden that he ended up asking to be legally separated from his parents.
“At 15 years old, when Jaden asked about being an emancipated minor, my heart shattered,” Will writes. “He ultimately decided against it, but it sucks to feel like you've hurt your kids."
An emancipated minor is someone who is legally deemed a child, yet is free from control by their parents or guardians. For example, they’re allowed freedom in making their own living arrangements or overseeing their income. Per the Independent, emancipation in Jaden’s case would have given him the freedom to make future work-related choices away from Will, as well as the ability to negotiate his own salary.
Will goes on to describe the lack of trust that Jaden had in him following the barrage of negative reviews and the film's overall failure.
“We never discussed it, but I know he felt betrayed,” Will writes. "He felt misled, and he lost his trust in my leadership."
This appears to be the first time that Will has opened up about the incident after previously calling it a "joke" back in 2013 when the subject of Jaden's emancipation came up publicly.
Will first mentioned emancipation during an interview in 2013. When asked what Jaden had requested for his 15th birthday, Will told the Sun: “He says, ‘Dad, I want to be emancipated.’ I know if we do this, he can be an emancipated minor, because he really wants to have his own place, like ‘Ooh.’ That's the backlash. On the other side, if kids just want to have command of their lives, I understand.”
But just days later, both Will and Jaden shut the whole thing down, describing the reference to possible emancipation as a "joke" during a joint appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
“See, here’s the thing. I’m not going anywhere,” Jaden said at the time.
“The thing that people don’t get is everything at this house is free. I can get anything and everything at his house, so I’m going to be there for 20, 30 years. [Will] says as soon as I have a movie that’s bigger than one of his movies, I can get my own house,” he quipped.
Following suit, Will also lightheartedly shut down the “rumors.” He said: “I think I made a joke in Tokyo. I mean, my baby boy — he's never leaving ever! No emancipation for the Smith kids.”
But although Jaden’s request to be emancipated was understood to be nothing more than a lighthearted exchange for years, fans eventually learned that there was more to this so-called joke after Jada opened up about the reality of the “heartbreaking” experience.
In a 2018 episode of Red Table Talk, Jada — who was accompanied by Jaden, her daughter Willow and mom Adrienne Banfield-Jones — candidly discussed her son’s request and recalled feeling “devastated” by it.
“At 15 years old, Jaden, and I remember this day specifically, it’s probably one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life,” Jada said. “You got to a point where you told me straight up, you were like, ‘Mom, I have to leave here to live my life.’”
“I remember thinking to myself, as devastated as I was, I was like, ‘He’s right.’ The time is now. He’s 15. It’s time for him to leave the house,” she went on.
“Being in this lifestyle, in this world is a bubble and [Jaden] wanted out,” she added. "I understood that because I didn’t have the bubble. I knew what having my freedom outside the bubble, what I gained from that. I knew the sooner I let him go, the faster he was going to come back."