Red Table Talk
Image: Yana Yatsuk for Rolling Stone

The genius of ‘Red Table Talk’

The American chat show, Red Table Talk, is a Facebook Watch series that’s famous for its very honest conversations about different contemporary concerns. Airing in 2018, it has released three seasons and over 70 episodes, all of which have a different issue to unpack. Such powerful topics inevitably lead to fascinating discussions, however, I would argue that calling Red Table Talk a chat show fails to do justice as to how groundbreaking it truly is.

Hosted by actress Jada Pinkett Smith, Jada’s mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris and daughter Willow, the three generations of family pride themselves on their ability to generate ‘real conversations’. The show is filmed in their home, instantly making the discussion feel more intimate, as the three women sit around a circular red table – a prop which has since become iconic. Since there’s no live audience, background music or bright lights, it’s not “your average talk show” – it is its simplicity and authenticity that makes Red Table Talk a masterpiece.

Calling Red Table Talk a chat show fails to do justice as to how groundbreaking it truly is

Without doubt, Red Table Talk pushes the boundaries of what is shown on mainstream TV, tackling topics which many would fear too controversial or sensitive to tackle. Jada, Willow and Adrienne welcome taboo subjects with open arms and have advocated obscure notions such as normalising healthy discussion about sex and porn within families, white privilege, mental health, gun violence, addiction as well as removing the stigma of talking about the hardships of marriage, to name a few. Their long term goal is to encourage families around the world to have their own dialogue.

The ladies are frequently joined at the table by A-listers, family members or ‘ordinary’ members of the public who candidly share their relevant personal experiences. My favourite episode is one on interracial marriage, featuring guest actress Ellen Pompeo, who speaks passionately of her own experiences having married a man of a different ethnicity to her. From microagressions to widespread public racism online, Pompeo phenomenally raises awareness to the struggles that still exist, even in the progressive modern society we currently live in. The Smiths respond flawlessly, showing genuine empathy, understanding and a desire to learn more – traits which are decreasingly evident on TV shows nowadays. Few shows offer such eye-opening forums and this is what makes the show so unique.

Few shows offer such eye-opening forums and this is what makes the show so unique

It is arguably the hosts who make the show what it is. The three-generation style family dynamic is utterly original in the talk show world and adds a closeness which is simply unmatched by other shows. Each woman brings a totally different energy to the conversation and sees the world from a different lens. For instance, the eldest, Adrienne, has a more conservative attitude and grew up in ‘the hood’, in stark contrast to her granddaughter, Willow, who is less conventional and born into a privileged life of Hollywood fame and fortune. The broad spectrum of views that the three women cover allows viewers to identify with at least one of the hosts, making for a more involved experience. But “the topics are so relatable that it’s easy to forget just how famous and wealthy the Smiths are”, as their willingness to demonstrate vulnerability on camera and reveal how their seemingly ‘perfect’ life is far from this in reality, is beyond impressive.

Such raw vulnerability is rarely broadcast on such a public platform, making Red Table Talk absolutely innovative in its field. I have a lot of respect for anyone who is willing to display such weakness on camera in order to help strangers, and each host has revealed extremely personal details about their life. Notably, in the episode, ‘Growing Up Smith’, Willow shares her severe mental health struggles as a child, worsened by being in the spotlight, which ultimately lead to her self-harming aged ten. 

Although I would argue that the show still lacks the deserved attention for how special it truly is, I am pleased that it boasts a loyal fanbase and receives widespread critical success for its originality and groundbreaking discussions. Red Table Talk has been nominated for various awards, including Outstanding Talk Show at the 2019 Daytime Emmy Awards and, more recently, Best Talk Show at the 2021 Critics’ Choice Television Awards, for which the result is still yet to be finalised.

The show has previously received backlash for facilitating a ‘safe space’ for stars to publicly address scandals

The show has previously received backlash for facilitating a ‘safe space’ for stars to publicly address scandals (this includes the Jordyn Woods cheating scandal and youtuber Olivia Jade’s involvement in the infamous US college admissions scandal). Although I agree that these somewhat affect the consistent structure of the show, they do make for some of the most interesting episodes and generate fascinating debates. Ultimately, Red Table Talk seeks difficult conversations, so I do not think such episodes are actually that far from its premise. They also bring a huge amount of publicity, with some getting over 30 million views.

Regardless, the show’s Facebook account boasts a loyal fanbase, AKA the ‘Red Table Talk Family’, with over 10 million followers worldwide. On its Facebook page, there is a discussion group fans can join to continue a particular episode’s conversation, or alternatively advise others on their own problems. I have never seen a show have more of an uplifting community feel and this is what makes the Red Table so special. 

Red Table Talk is an invaluable display of the power of communication and it is moving, heartwarming and enlightening

Red Table Talk is a show that I wish we had more of. Each episode has a message and is individually uplifting and motivating. It reassures us that although life can throw us endless hardships, we are unified by the fact that everyone goes through similar struggles. Red Table Talk is an invaluable display of the power of communication and it is moving, heartwarming and enlightening. I would hugely encourage anyone to watch it.

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