The XX Factor

Willow Smith Wants to “Just Be 12.’ Is That Even Possible?

Willow Smith opted out of her dad’s latest project.

Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images for vitaminwater

In the past few years, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith seemed to be successfully building their own army of culture-conquering offspring. Son Jaden appeared with his father in The Pursuit of Happyness, will do so again in the upcoming After Earth, and nabbed a role in the Smith-developed remake of The Karate Kid. Daughter Willow starred with Smith in I Am Legend, signed on to dad’s Annie remake, and has been busy launching a music career. But suddenly, the army is down a man (girl). According to Smith, Willow wants some time off.

During a speech in Philadelphia, Smith explained why his daughter dropped out of the lead role in a remake of Annie:

Willow was supposed to be doing Annie, we got Jay-Z to do the movie, got the studio to come in and Willow had such a difficult time on tour with Whip My Hair and she said, “You know Daddy, I don’t think so,” and I said, “Baby, hold up!” I said, “No, no, no, listen, you’ll be in New York with all of your friends and Beyoncé will be there. You will be singing and dancing,” and she looked at me and said, “Daddy, I have a better idea, how about I just be 12.” 

Parents may think they’re doing their children favors when they give them the chance to chase their entertainment dreams. And in some cases, they might be. Quvenzhané Wallis, the pint-sized and Oscar-nominated star of Beasts of the Southern Wild (who may be Smith’s replacement in Annie), at least appears to be having one heck of a time on the Academy Awards campaign trail. But if you’ve got the ability to open entertainment industry doors for your child, whether because you can insist that they be cast in your movies, or because you can put up the cash to get them in a recording studio or shoot a vanity music video, you’re also exposing them to expectations and criticism that they may not be able to handle. The upside to being taken seriously is also the downside to being taken seriously. And the most generous thing an adult can do for a kid who dreams of singing or acting is not just to give them resources and a shot, but to let them walk away.

Maybe they’ll want to leave because, like non-star kids, they get bored and move on to the next thing. And maybe they’ll leave because what they actually want to be is amateur, to dance around in their bedrooms for their own enjoyment, rather than on YouTube for someone else’s. I’m sorry Will Smith’s response to his daughter’s withdrawal was to try to talk her into continuing to work, and I’m glad that he seems to have ultimately listened to her. I hope it’s possible to be a Smith kid and also to “just be 12.”