Hollywood fortunes are growing. “Spartacus” actor Kirk Douglas was worth around $80 million by some estimates before he passed away, having smartly established a production company in the 1950s to make movies outside the studio system. In 2020, the 10 top-earning actors pulled in a combined $545.5 million. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made $87.5 million last year. The actor and retired wrestler hasn’t jumped into the philanthropic ring in a big way yet, but we look forward to seeing him arch the People’s Eyebrow in that direction soon.
Then there’s Hollywood power couple Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, who established the Will and Jada Pinkett Smith Family Foundation (WJSFF) all the way back in 1996. The foundation has an accessible website and a small staff steering the ship. The Hollywood power couple is worth around $280 million by some estimates, meaning this philanthropic franchise has many sequels to come. And I’m just going to say it: “Men in Black III” was just as good as the original. (Note: Accurate. — Ed.)
Born in Philadelphia and Baltimore, respectively, Will and Jada showed an early aptitude for the arts, using their creative talents to make their mark on Hollywood. In a previous post about Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, I noted that hyphenate entertainment figures—for instance, director-producers or actor-producers—are especially notable in entertainment for the wealth they can amass. This is definitely true for rapper-actor-producer-founder Smith of Overbrook Entertainment, headquartered in Beverly Hills.
But what causes are the Smiths into? And what can we expect for this power couple’s giving down the line?
The arts are a top priority
Unlike other arts philanthropists, including many Wall Street financiers, entertainment professionals have made art their life’s work. Will and Jada’s giving through WJSFF focuses on empowering historically underrepresented creatives.
Program Director Stacey Matthew steers the foundation’s Careers in Entertainment initiative, which aims to ensure that youth from underserved and inadequately resourced communities are developed to their full potential and allowed the access, opportunity and inclusion to be the next generation’s innovators and creators in the entertainment industry.
Jada Pinkett Smith serves on the board of American Film Institute in Los Angeles. WJSFF and American Film Institute Conservatory partnered to create the Young Women in Film Intensive, an eight-week filmmaking workshop for high school girls that aims to cultivate the next generation of women storytellers. The foundation also partners with Sundance Institute and invests in diverse emerging filmmakers through the Sundance Screenwriter’s Intensive.
WJSFF also collaborates with Overbrook Entertainment, the production company behind tearjerkers like “Seven Pounds” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” In one instance, WJSFF worked with Overbrook to develop partnerships between FilmRise, Citi and Global Citizen to support Sprinter, a coming-of-age drama film about a young Jamaican sprinter.
Equity and empowerment is another interest
WJSFF’s empowerment initiative focuses on bridging the “gap to success by providing exposure, inspiration and support for overlooked communities, in the form of grants, programs, events and mentorship.” The foundation partners with organizations like the National Cares Mentoring Movement, which pairs children with supportive mentors, and with Boys and Girls Club of America.
The couple’s three kids are already involved with the foundation and influence giving to a surprising degree. Consider 20-year-old singer Willow Smith, who learned about modern day slavery in school and has been raising awareness about this issue, appearing in CNN’s “Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking.” WJSFF works with organizations Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Human Trafficking (CAST) and New Friends New Life.
WJSFF has also steadily supported Associated Black Charities, “a public foundation that advocates and facilitates the creation of measurably healthier and more prosperous communities through responsible leadership and philanthropic investment throughout the State of Maryland.” Other grantees have included the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
The Smiths also have an interest in social entrepreneurship and support the Dreamers Fund, a partnership between Will Smith and Japanese soccer star Keisuke Honda, providing $100 million to startups that address social issues that align with their values.
Will and Jada also support health and sustainability through their foundation. On the health front, their son Trey led the family to support Extra Life, an organization that unites gamers around the world to play games in support of sick and injured kids. And son Jaden co-founded the beautifully named 501cthree, which deploys solutions for energy, food, water and shelter.
Since its inception in 2019, 501cthree has delivered Water Boxes—free dispensers of clean water that eliminate the need to ship in thousands of plastic bottles—in Flint, Newark and Los Angeles’ Skid Row, providing more than 49,000 gallons of water to community members.
501cthree’s website speaks plainly about its focus on the many layers of systemic inequity: “We understand that historic and systemic barriers keep people of color from accessing things like voting, food and water. But we also know that racial inequality doesn’t stop there. The racial gaps go way deeper, multiplying injustice into lesser-known areas (like clean energy and the internet) and harming the wellness, safety and success of millions of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people every day.”
As the next chapter of Smith philanthropy is written, expect the couple’s three kids to have starring roles.