On Wednesday (Sept. 18), actress Jada Pinkett Smith turns 48-years-old. From Lena James to Ronnie to Stony to Lyric, Pinkett Smith has portrayed a myriad of diverse roles. She’s often played roles where she’s attempted to educate and save her love interest, but she also has portrayed characters where she actually was able to save herself, which isn’t seen in Hollywood too often for women. Let alone, black women. To honor the Baltimore native, we’ve ranked her top 7 roles in television and film. (Warning: Spoiler Alerts)
1. Lena James on A Different World
In the 23rd episode of A Different World’s sixth season titled “Homie, don’t ya know me?” which aired on June 24, 1993, Pinkett Smith portrays her fan-favorite role of Lena James. In the episode, James is paid a visit at Hillman by her old boyfriend (played by the late Tupac Shakur) and some homies, but they end up finding out that they don’t fit into James’ new life as a college student.
2. Stony in Set It Off
In 1996’s Set It Off, Pinkett Smith portrays an underemployed custodian named Stony, who’s raising her younger brother and trying to earn enough money so that she can send him to college. She asks her future employer, a much older car salesman named Nate for an advance so that she can have the money for her brother.
Nate then alludes to Stony having sex with him in order to get the advance. Stony didn’t want to have sex with Nate, but she felt pressured. “I’m in a bind, Nate.” Pinkett Smith tells Nate in the gutwrenching scene. She eventually becomes a bank robber with her best friends, and never ended up working for Nate.
3. Sloan Hopkins in Bamboozled
In Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (2000), Pinkett Smith portrays Solan Hopkins, a personal assistant to a creative at a television network named Delacroix who she eventually helps to develop a minstrel show that features black actors in blackface and racist jokes. The idea came about as a way to help Delacroix be released from his contract by firing. However, Delacroix’s boss actually liked the terrible minstrel show.
The minstrel show becomes successful and Delacroix changes his tune and eventually embraces the fame while Sloan is disgusted. A militant rap group criticizes the show and plans to stop it, and Sloan befriends one of the group’s members. Delacroix eventually fires Sloan, and she attempts to show him a montage of racist media tropes, but he refuses to watch it. Members of the rap group kidnap an actor from the minstrel show and kill him during a live web feed causing Sloan to hold Delacroix at gunpoint and make him watch her video. As he watches, she reminds him of how his show ruined people’s lives.
4. Lyric in Jason’s Lyric
Pinkett Smith plays Lyric, a hopeless romantic who often dreams of escaping her small-town life. She meets a guy named Jason, who works in a television repair shop and they fall in love. However, Jason is haunted by his childhood trauma, which later interferes with his and Lyric’s relationship. Jason and Lyric both have a brother, who are are in a gang together and they make plans to rob a bank. The robbery didn’t go so well and Lyric and Jason’s brothers fight.
Lyric convinces Jason to leave town with her, but Jason’s brother, Joshua, anticipates stopping Jason from leaving with Lyric after he overhears a conversation about it. Joshua ends up holding Lyric at gunpoint, and Jason eventually comes to save the day. Although Lyric was injured during the tussle, she and Jason end up eventually leaving town together.
5. Niobe in The Matrix Reloaded
In 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded Pinkett Smith portrays Niobe, a human from Zion. Niobe is one of the rebels who participates in the war against the Machines and the Matrix. Niobe is also the captain and pilot of a Zion hovercraft, called the Logos. Pinkett Smith’s character is also one of Zion’s most gifted martial artists and is also the most skilled pilot among the rebel forces, in the real world.
6. Ronnie in Menace II Society
In 1993’s Menace II society, Pinkett Smith portrayed Ronnie, a girl from the hood who has seen entirely too much violence and is tired of oppression. She ends up falling in love with a local drug dealer and gang member, Caine. Ronnie eventually makes a plan to relocate to Atlanta to start a better life and invites her boyfriend, Caine to come along with her. However, Caine ends up getting killed in a shoot out, and the two never make it to ATL together.
7. Lisa Cooper in Girls Trip
Pinkett Smith was Lisa Cooper in the fan-favorite 2017 film Girls Trip that highlighted Essence magazine’s beloved Essence Music Festival. Lisa is an uptight divorcee and single mother who needs to loosen up, which was a major deviation from Pinkett Smith’s usual roles. Smith’s typical roles are characters that are usually outspoken, sometimes sassy, and headstrong, so it was refreshing to see Pinkett Smith in a role where she wasn’t the stereotypical “strong black woman” trying to school a love interest or friend.