Olivia was, rightly, put on the spot over her privilege as RTT tackled the college admissions scandal.
Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli’s daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli made her first public comments about her family’s involvement in the college admissions scandal during a new episode of “Red Table Talk” on Facebook Watch — but not everyone was thrilled about giving her a platform to share her side of the story.
Before Olivia even sat down at the titular table, Jada Pinkett Smith, mom Adrienne Banfield Norris and daughter Willow Smith first discussed their personal feelings about having the social media star on the show.
Olivia’s parents are both serving time in prison for their involvement in the scam with admissions ringleader Rick Singer to get Olivia and sister Isabella into the University of Southern California.
“A lot of people are going to have a lot of opinions about her story. She called and wanted to come to our table and we all had very different feelings about it,” explained Jada.
“I fought it tooth and nail,” said Gam. “I found it really ironic that she chose three Black women to reach out to for her redemption story. I feel like, here we are, a white woman coming to Black women for support when we don’t get the same from them. It’s bothersome to me on so many levels. Her being here is the epitome of white privilege to me.”
While Jada said she didn’t want to do what “was done to me by white women,” Adrienne said she felt it wasn’t her “responsibility to raise [Olivia’s] consciousness” about issues of privilege.
“At the end of the day, I really feel like she gonna be okay and she’s gonna recover whether her ass was sitting at this table or not,” added Gam, before Jada said she felt like “Olivia deserves a space” to share her story.
“Obviously you do, because I fought it and guess what, she gonna be sitting right there,” added Norris. “My feelings are what they are … let’s carry on.”
With that, the guest of honor came out to sit at the table — telling the three women her heart was “racing out of” her chest. “I’m excited, I’m definitely ready to address some things and I can’t think of better place, so thank you for having me,” she added.
When asked why she reached out to RTT, the 21-year-old said she wanted to be somewhere “where I didn’t feel attacked” and believed the table would be a “honest” platform to have “an open conversation” about what happened.
She added that it’s been “hard” to have her parents serve prison time, but said it’s also “necessary for us to move on and to move forward.” At the time they filmed the episode, Olivia hadn’t spoken to her parents since they reported to prison.
Jade made it very clear she believes there’s “no justifying or excusing” what her family did — saying all of them can admit “That was messed up, that was a big mistake.” However, she wanted to shift the conversation from being “shamed and punished” to learning. “I’m 21, I feel like I deserve a second chance to redeem myself, to show I’ve grown,” she said.
When the scandal first broke, Olivia was actually on Spring Break with her friends — and found out about it while sitting in a room surrounded by her friends. She said she immediately felt “so ashamed” and went into hiding. She didn’t return to school, saying, “I should’t have been there in the first place, clearly, so there was no point in trying to go back.”
When she was asked about the repercussions, Gam reiterated her earlier statement that she believed Olivia would be fine after the scandal blew over, because of her privilege.
“I’m not trying to victimize myself, I don’t want pity, I don’t deserve pity. We messed up. I just want a second chance to be like, I recognize I messed up and for so long I wasn’t able to talk about this because of the legalities behind this,” said Olivia. “I never got to say, ‘I’m sorry that this happened.’ I think everybody feels that way in my family right now.”
She said the whole situation has opened her eyes about her, her family and her friends’ privilege. Olivia said that as the scandal first broke, she couldn’t comprehend why what they did was wrong — as many in their community made donations or found other ways to get their children into the colleges of their choice.
“I didn’t realize at the time, that’s privilege,” she said, before addressing an old YouTube video in which she said she didn’t even care about college and only wanted to go to one to party. “That sits with me and makes me cringe. And not only said that, but edited, uploaded it and then saw the response to know there was wrong. I was never trying to hurt anybody, I was oblivious. I sit here now, like how don’t you realize stuff like that.”
Gam then asked if she had a “clear understanding of what privilege really is now,” with Olivia answering, “Just based off my skin color, I already had one foot in the door and I was already ahead of everybody else. 100% I can recognize that.”
“Do you understand why people in the community might be upset?” Gam then asked. “Do you understand why I would be upset at your being here and what you all did?”
Olivia told her she’d love to hear why from Gam herself, with Norris not holding back.
“For me, it’s like, there is so much violent dehumanization that the Black community has to go through on a daily basis, there is so much devastation, particularly this year, 2020, with the pandemic and everything being brought to the table, there’s so much inequality and inequity that when you come to the table with something like this, it’s like child, please,” she told her.
“I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted with everything 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,” continued Norris. “Because, at the end of the day, you’re going to be okay, your parents are going to go in and they’re gonna do their 60 days and they’re gonna pay their fine and you guys will go on and be okay and live your life and there’s so many of us that it’s not going to be that situation. It just makes it very difficult right now for me to care. In this atmosphere we are in right now.”
“I don’t want you to take it personally, it’s not really about you,” Norris clarified, adding that she was glad to hear Olivia had a desire to learn what she had done wrong and was doing something other than throwing money at the problem to try and make a difference.
“I didn’t come on here to win people over. I just want to apologize for contributing to these social inequalities … to recognize that I am aware,” replied Olivia.
The YouTuber said that when she confronted her parents over what happened, “they didn’t really have much to say except, ‘I’m so sorry, I really messed up in trying to give the best to you and my sister.'” She added that she knows her parents are “good people” who are deservedly paying the price for their actions.
When she then said many of her friends have “similar lifestyles” and were oblivious to their privilege, Gam pushed back.
“I hear what you’re saying, but I also recognize too, this kind of stuff that I’m talking about has been on the news every day, all day,” she said. “This state of oblivion and unawareness that she and her friends are living in … it sounds like we’re putting the responsibility for that on somebody else when it’s not, they’re young adults, the news is on every day and you have responsibility in that yourself.”
“I can’t argue that,” Olivia told her. “I totally understand.”
Gam then pointed out that it wasn’t just racial privilege, but financial privilege they were taking advantage of as well, as Olivia’s parents paid to take the place of someone who “worked hard to earn the right to be in that college.”
Saying she worked her butt off in high school, Olivia explained that she and her family “put a lot of trust into a person who claimed their profession was college counseling. It’s not to shift blame, but to explain, I wasn’t aware of what was going on.”
The conversation ended with Jada saying she was “really happy” to see Olivia breaking her past patterns with a new awareness that brought Smith “a lot of joy.” She then told the YouTuber she was “brave” for doing the show — adding, “I don’t know too many young women in your position that would come sit here with the three of us.”
“The wrath of Gam is no joke,” added Willow.
As the episode wrapped, the three cohosts began to laugh as they all revealed they were obsessed with Olivia’s pink satin suit — and Gam, once again, told the guest she hoped her frustrations didn’t feel personal, but were instead about “the situation” as a whole.