ATLANTA, GA - JULY 11: Actress Jada Pinkett Smith at "Girls Trip" Atlanta special screening at SCADshow on July 11, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jada Pinkett Smith is an actress, talk show host, and producer. The Baltimore native came from humble beginnings and was raised primarily by her mother and grandmother. Her mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, saw that she was interested in entertainment at a young age and eventually got her to start applying her skills in the early ’90s. She mostly had small roles on television and eventually, her big break in came when she was on seasons four and five of A Different World. She starred alongside Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell, Dawnn Lewis, and Charnelle Brown. The show was a spin-off from The Cosby Show and originally focused on Lisa Bonet’s character, Denise Huxtable. Bonet became pregnant with daughter Zoë Kravitz and was later fired. The show shifted direction to Guy and Hardison’s characters Whitley and Dwayne.

Film Career Takes Off

  • Pinkett Smith later broke into film with her debut role in Menace II Society. The film was released in 1993 and also starred Tyrin Turner, Larenz Tate, Samuel L. Jackson, Vonte Sweet, and Jullian Roy Doster. Three years later, she starred in The Nutty Professor, which helped her snag her first ensemble role as a lead in Set It Off. From there, she was able to continue to build a name for herself and was cast in The Matrix franchise (Reloaded (2003), Revolutions (2003), Resurrections (2021)), Scream 2, Return to Paradise, and more. One of her most successful films to date is her 2017 film Girls Trip, starring Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, and Tiffany Haddish. The film was a box office hit with $140 million worldwide with a $19 million production budget.

Beyond Film

In addition to having a successful film career, Pinkett Smith pivoted to becoming a talk show host. She hosted Red Table Talk with her mother Banfield-Norris, and daughter, Willow Smith, representing three generations. The show was canceled along with Facebook Watch’s other shows earlier this year. However, she told PEOPLE in June that the show will “definitely” be making a return.

Take a look at seven of her best acting roles below:

  • 7. Ali (2001)

    In Ali, Jada Pinkett Smith played alongside Will Smith for the biopic of the legendary boxer Muhammed Ali. Jada was Will’s wife in the film and they had already been married for four years in real life before this film was released. Jada plays Ali’s first wife, Sonji Roy, who did not want to join the Nation of Islam and would often defy the rules of his religion by wearing revealing clothes. Jada and Will’s characters go back and forth in the film due to their different beliefs. Will received his first Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali. You can watch Ali on YouTube.

  • 6. Jason's Lyric (1994)

    Before Will, there was Jason (just kidding) but Jason’s Lyric meshes love and tragedy. Jason (Allen Payne) falls for Lyric (Jada), who is a waitress. Prior to meeting Lyric, Jason and his brother Josh (Bokeem Woodbine) face a family tragedy that pushes them away from each other. The brothers begin following different paths in how to cope with the loss. While the film’s storyline was criticized, Jada’s acting in this film showed great promise for her future career. You can watch Jason’s Lyric on YouTube.

  • 5. Menace II Society (1993)

    Jada made her film debut in Menace II Society. The film was released in 1993. Jada plays Ronnie, a single mother wanting a better life for her son Anthony and to raise him without the poor portrayals of the men’s behavior in her neighborhood. This film set the stage for Jada’s promising career in film. The Hughes Brothers directed film won Best Movie at the 1994 MTV Awards. The film stars also Tyron Turner, Larenz Tate and Samuel L. Jackson. You can stream Menace II Society on Pluto for free.

  • 4. A Different World (1991-1993)

    Watch A Different World | Max

    Watch A Different World and more new shows on Max. Plans start at $9.99/month. Featuring students adjusting to a new way of life away from home as they attend the fictitious Hillman College. Spin-off of The Cosby Show.

    Before film, Jada got her big break as Lena James on A Different World. The series follows college students attending the HBCU (Hillman University) and how they deal with typical young adult issues. The students would address typical topics such as dating but also used its platform to touch upon serious issues such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The series was a spin-off from The Cosby Show; it originally followed Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) and after her departure, focused on Whitley Gilbert-Wayne (Jasmine Guy) and Dwayne Cleophus Wayne (Kadeem Hardison). Jada’s role in this show helped launch her career in film and television. You can stream A Different World on Max (formerly known as HBO Max).

  • 3. The Matrix Franchise (Reloaded (2003) / Revolutions (2003)/ Resurrections (2021)

    Jada’s role as Niobe in The Matrix franchise was the first time she appeared in a blockbuster film. The three films Reloaded, Revolutions, and Resurrections follow the original 1999 classic. Niobe is a skilled pilot and martial artist who is a force to be reckoned with. In the 2021 film, Jade’s character has significally aged but her words of wisdom still ring true. The franchise also stars Keanu Reeves, Monica Bellucci and Laurence Fishburne. You can watch all three films on YouTube.

  • 2. Girls Trip (2017)

    Jada shows off her fun and flirty side in the 2017 film Girls Trip. The film is about four college friends getting together to have fun like old times during the Essence Festival. Girls Trip also stars Queen Latifah, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish. Jada plays a mom who is trying to get her groove back, and this trip is the right fix. You can watch Girls Trip on YouTube.

  • 1. Set It Off (1996)

    Jada will always be known for her role in Set It Off. The film follows four friends from Los Angeles who commit bank robberies in order to give a better life to themselves and their families. Jada stars alongside Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise. This is the first time Jada starred in an ensemble cast, and she clearly excels in making her role memorable each time. In Set It Off she plays Stony, whose brother is killed by the police and joins her friends’ plan to rob banks. You can watch Set It Off on YouTube.

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