How sincere was Olivia Jade Giannulli’s mea culpa? Her Watts story raises questions
After Olivia Jade Giannulli appeared so contrite on Jade Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” Facebook show Tuesday, it might seem hard-hearted to question whether the 21-year-old is really, really sorry for the outsized role she and her Hollywood parents played in the nationwide college admissions scandal.
The daughter of disgraced TV actress Lori Loughlin used her big brown eyes and softly raspy voice to convey shame and remorse as she told Jade Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Pinkett Smith’s much more skeptical mother, Adrienne Banfield Norris, that she didn’t deserve pity and admitted she was guilty of “white privilege.”
By Olivia Jade’s own admission, it has taken nearly two years for the once aspiring social media influencer to fully grasp why so many Americans have been angry that her mother and father, Mossimmo Giannulli, paid $500,000 in bribes to get her and her sister fraudulently admitted to the University of Southern California.
Olivia Jade described finally coming to this realization just a few weeks ago when she volunteered at an after-school program in the Watts neighborhood of southern Los Angeles.
Video: Olivia Jade opens up on ‘Red Table Talk’ about college admission scandal
Talking to the children, she said, “shifted my whole mentality.”
Olivia Jade, who grew up in Bel Air, attended an elite girls’ prep school and laughingly admitted in one of her YouTube videos that she didn’t care that much about academics or going to college, said that the young children she met “were so grateful for that education.”
“I was watching all of them, and I was thinking about my situation and that I took all of that for granted,” she said. “I didn’t think I was lucky to have that. I just expected that because I grew up around it. So it was a big shift in my head, knowing, like, let’s start recognizing where the wrongs are in that.”
Banfield Norris definitely didn’t seem moved by Olivia Jade Giannulli’s story about working with underprivileged children. “Child, please,” Banfield Norris said.
From Olivia Jade’s statements in her first interview since news of the scandal broke in March 2019, it appears that it indeed took her a long time to appreciate the extent to which the American public was put off by the arrogance and obliviousness she and her family displayed, especially after her parents’ arrest.
While other wealthy parents charged in the scandal, including TV actress Felicity Huffman, quickly took plea deals, admitted responsibility and apologized, Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli spent more than a year insisting on their innocence and claiming they were victims of prosecutorial overreach.
Meanwhile, Olivia Jade spent time after her parents’ arrest trying, without success, to revive her influencer career. She also famously posed for an Instagram photo in August 2019, flipping off the media for their coverage of her family’s ordeal.
Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli are serving two- and five-month sentences respectively in federal prison for their crimes, so maybe Olivia Jade Giannulli felt it was finally time to give her first interview — for her sake and possibly for theirs.
In choosing “Red Table Talk” for her first interview, Olivia Jade irked Banfield Norris. Before the interview, Banfield Norris told her daughter and granddaughter that she didn’t like letting Loughlin’s daughter use “three Black women … for her redemption story.”
Olivia Jade’s Watts story struck an odd tone, as if she thought saying she spent time with underprivileged children would score points with her “Red Table Talk” hosts.
Another problem with her story is that she admitted she hadn’t been “doing much” lately. She said she had only recently decided she wanted to do volunteer work that makes her “feel good,” though she didn’t specify whether she would continue to volunteer in Watts or elsewhere.
“I’m just at the beginning, and I want to continue doing stuff and finding more things to do,” she said.
While Pinkett Smith seemed heartened by Olivia Jade’s statements about wanting to put “real time” into helping others, Banfield Norris was clearly put off. She followed Olivia Jade’s Watts story by sternly explaining the effect of the college admissions scandal on the Black community.
“There is so much devastation, particularly this year, 2020, with the pandemic and everything brought to the table about how there is so much inequality and inequity, that when you come to the table with something like this, it’s like, ‘Child, please.'”
Banfield Norris also said she had “no energy to put into the fact that you lost your endorsements and you’re not in school right now.”
After Olivia Jade’s parents were arrested, she never went back to USC, where she was a freshman. She also lost lucrative endorsement deals for her once thriving influencer business on Instagram and YouTube.
“Because at the end of the day, you’re going to be OK,” Banfield Norris said. “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 are going to go on and be OK and you will 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 that we’re in right now.”
Olivia Jade was vague about discussing details about her parents’ crimes or her own alleged role in the bribery scheme. Prosecutors presented evidence that Olivia Jade and Isabella were complicit in efforts by bribery scheme mastermind William “Rick” Singer to portray them as crew team recruits in their USC applications. Among other things, Olivia Jade and Isabella posed on rowing machines for photos that were used to create false athletic profiles.
Olivia Jade insisted she wasn’t “aware” of what was going on with her own USC application.
“I was definitely confused when this all came out,” she said. “And I went and confronted them about everything. They didn’t really have much to say, except, like, ‘I’m so sorry. I, like, really messed up in trying to give the best to you and your sister.'”
Olivia Jade also said that reading reports about her fraudulent college application and credentials was disorienting.
“I remember thinking, ‘How are people mad about this?'” she said, adding that at the time she thought, “I don’t really understand what’s wrong with this.”
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