It’s been almost 2 years since Operation Varsity Blues. Felicity Huffman has served her abbreviated eleven days in prison and subsequent community service. She’s even booked her comeback role: a half-hour comedy for ABC. I’m sure she’ll address the scandal in a sit-down interview before that show hits our screens, but this saga is mostly in her rearview mirror. As for the other high-profile offenders, Lori Loughlin is halfway through her two month sentence, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, just started his five month sentence. Now to the person at the centre of this scandal who wasn’t implicated — Lori and Mossimo’s daughter, Olivia Jade, who broke her silence with an appearance on Red Table Talk.
First, can we talk about how RTT has become the place to share your truth? When the show premiered in 2018, I honestly never thought it would last, but then the episodes got better and better. A-list guests spilling everything, because it feels like a safe place to do so. That’s exactly why Olivia says she reached out to the Red Table team. She wanted to share her side of the story in a space where she wouldn’t feel attacked. A space where she could participate in a non-judgmental, open conversation. That’s the magic of RTT.
What makes Olivia’s episode different is that one of the show’s hosts, Adrienne Banfield-Norris Jada Pinkett Smith’s mom (better known as Gammy), didn’t want to give Olivia space on her platform. In fact she says that she fought tooth and nail for this episode not to happen. Before they welcome their guest, Gammy, Jada, and Willow discuss the decision to open up the table for this purpose and this conversation is the most interesting part of the episode. Gammy immediately makes it clear how ironic it feels that Olivia reached out to three Black women for redemption, when the opportunity and platform they’re offering her isn’t often reciprocated when the power dynamic is reversed. To add a more specific layer, my mind went to the fact that when the college admissions scandal broke, a lot of people correctly pointed out the hypocrisy of Felicity, Lori, and other parents paying for their bribery crimes with heavy fines and minimal jail time, while Black mothers have had to serve extended time and then years of probation on top of that for falsifying their addresses to get their kids into better school districts. Jada’s rebuttal to her mom’s statements are that people look at them as Black and female and automatically make assumptions, so she doesn’t want to look at Olivia as white, young, and privileged and make assumptions.
Enter Olivia, who doesn’t just get side-eye from Gammy, she gets the whole stank face. It’s not long before Gammy lays out where she’s coming at this situation from — explaining how the inequalities and inequities facing the Black community, particularly this year, need our attention (more than this does). She tells Olivia, “When you come to the table with something like this, it’s like ‘child please.’” What follows that statement is Gammy pretty much summing up why I never planned on watching this episode — I only got hooked in after seeing a clip of them debating whether Olivia deserves their platform.
“I’m exhausted,” Gammy continues. “I’m exhausted with everything that we have to deal with as a community and I just don’t have the energy to put into the fact that you lost your endorsements, or you’re not in school right now. Because at the end of the day you’re going to be okay because your parents are going to go in and they’re going to do their 60 days, and they’re going to pay their fine, and you guys will go on and you’ll be okay… There’s so many of us where it’s not going to be that situation. It just makes it very difficult right now for me to care.”
She explains that a year from now she may care more, but in the current climate she’s struggling to find any compassion for these circumstances and clarifies that her anger isn’t personal. I completely get that and I hope Olivia gets it too. When you’ve given your energy to so many things, and on top of that, you’ve had things that may have stolen energy from you, you have to be judicial about who’s getting the last of it and there are way more important things than Olivia Jade losing out on her makeup deal.
I’ll let you watch the clip for yourself to make your own judgments about what Olivia’s learned and what she wanted to get from bringing her story to the Table. I personally think Jada and Willow did way too much accepting her at her word. At one point Jada says, “When this happened with your parents, I’m sure you were angry,” but Gammy interrupts, asking “or were you angry?” and Olivia admits when it first happened, she wasn’t. Had Gammy not been there to check her, this episode wouldn’t have sat right with my soul. As previously addressed, Olivia and her family are going to be fine no matter what, so I’m not stressed over RTT giving Olivia a platform to help rehab her image. But at least someone at the table made it clear that her blindspots when it comes to privilege are bigger than this one scandal.