There was some healing that needed to happen. And so, in October 2018, Hollywood superstar Will Smith joined his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, for a special two-part episode of her Facebook Watch series Red Table Talk.
One year prior, The Daily Beast had published an interview with Leah Remini, the ex-Scientologist turned whistleblower who alleged that Pinkett Smith was a devoted practitioner of Scientology—a costly endeavor (reaching its highest “Operating Thetan” levels can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars) that comprises tales of intergalactic overlords, dead alien souls, “body thetans,” and the curious theory that humans evolved from clams.
“I know Jada’s in. I know Jada’s in. She’s been in Scientology a long time,” Remini told me. “I never saw Will (Smith) there, but I saw Jada at the Celebrity Centre. They opened up a Scientology school, and have since closed it. But Jada, I had seen her at the Scientology Celebrity Centre all the time.”
Remini was referring to the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, California, where its handful of famous acolytes take courses along the “Bridge to Total Freedom.” The King of Queens star’s claim prompted Will to clear the air.
“All right, so hold on—let’s clear some rumors, just to have it on record,” offered Will that day on Red Table Talk. “We’ve never been Scientologists, we’ve never been swingers.”
A little over a week ago, the couple confessed—in terribly awkward fashion—that the “swingers” portion of that statement was misleading at best. As for the “Scientologists” part, well, that doesn’t appear to be entirely true either. (The Smiths and the Church of Scientology did not respond to numerous requests for comment.)
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According to Tony Ortega, the world’s leading Scientology reporter and publisher of The Underground Bunker, while the Smiths aren’t currently involved with the controversial religion, Pinkett Smith has “definitely been misleading about her past involvement” in Scientology. “I talked to close friends of Will Smith who said he was a ‘dabbler’ who dabbled in everything, and that Jada was the hardcore Scientologist.”
And nowhere was that influence more apparent than at the New Village Leadership Academy, the Smiths’ mysterious private school in tony Calabasas, California, that opened its doors in 2008 before quietly closing in 2013.
The Daily Beast spoke to four former teachers and administrators at the New Village Leadership Academy who insist that Scientology not only bled into every aspect of the school but that it was “essentially a Scientology school,” filled with mostly Scientologist-teachers that taught students Scientology methods of learning.
The New Village Leadership Academy began as a home school in one of the Smiths’ unused residences in Indian Hills, California.
“Will and Jada gathered 20, 30 kids—including their kids, Jaden and Willow—in their old home. It was a big house where they had several rooms, almost like a Montessori,” says Mariappan Jawaharlal, Ph.D., who goes by the nickname “Jawa.”
Jawaharlal, who currently serves as an engineering professor at California State University, Sacramento, is one of the leading robotics instructors in the country, and was recruited by Jacqueline Olivier to be a guest-lecturer for the Smiths’ budding school. Olivier had previously run the Gillispie School in La Jolla, California, and was hired by the Smiths to help found and oversee the New Village Leadership Academy.
“They never mentioned Scientology,” Olivier tells me. “But I remember they sent me the L. Ron Hubbard books (the founder of Scientology), and I didn’t put it together. It just seemed like a great opportunity.”
There were other signs. Olivier says she soon discovered that all of the teachers in the Smiths’ home were Scientologists, and remembers Pinkett Smith ordering her to take classes in “study technology”—a dubious teaching method developed by Hubbard that is foundational to Scientology.
Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s New Village Leadership Academy.
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Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s New Village Leadership Academy.
The New Village Leadership Academy’s website, which has since been removed, did not contain any mention of Scientology but did provide an explainer of study technology, which it described as: “An educational model developed by L R Hubbard, study technology focuses on three principles. First is the use of ‘mass’ (manipulatives and hands-on experiences) to foster understanding—children need to see and feel what they are learning about. Second is the attention to the ‘gradient,’ which ensures students master one level before moving on to the next. Third is the ‘misunderstood word,’ in which students master word definitions and are taught not to read past words they don’t know the meanings of in order to understand completely what they are reading and learning. NVA uses study technology as an umbrella methodology woven through the subjects.” (The practice of understanding the “misunderstood word” is known as “word clearing.”)
“Will would say, ‘It has to be 100 percent study technology.’ And I later learned that you couldn’t have it less than that, because it’s a holy thing,” says Olivier. “And Jada said, ‘If you’re the person in charge of the school then you need to be the person who knows the most about study technology, so we need you to take these courses.’”
Olivier says she and other teachers were made to take courses at Scientology’s Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, California, and also at Applied Scholastics, a Scientology-affiliated group that promotes study technology.
“We all went to Applied Scholastics,” says Olivier. “They have all these front companies that you only realize later are Scientology.”
“I had to go down to the Celebrity Centre and do stuff with the E-meter, and Jada was always at the Celebrity Centre,” she continues. “My feeling is that Jada was really into (Scientology) and Will was sort of whatever… but he took all the courses too.”
But Olivier says that Smith was pressured to downplay—at least publicly—his involvement in the Church of Scientology. She recalls attending a meeting at the Smiths’ home wherein James Lassiter, who runs Smith’s production shingle Overbrook Entertainment, warned Smith, “Don’t let this Scientology shit get in the way of Hancock”—Overbrook’s big 2008 summer movie release starring Smith as a slovenly superhero. (Lassiter did not respond to requests for comment.)
The 2008 tax returns for the Smiths’ charitable foundation, the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation, showed that the pair gave a total of $122,500 to Scientology groups, including Applied Scholastics and its umbrella organization, the Association for Better Living and Education (ABLE).
“I was naïve about it,” offers Olivier. “I take things at face value and believe people—and they’re actors. And that’s how they lured people into Scientology.”
In 2008, the Smiths paid $890,000 for a three-year lease to a building that formerly housed Indian Hills High School—a place best known for educating five of the seven members of the “Bling Ring,” a gang of teens who robbed celebrity homes in Calabasas.
And Olivier was admittedly excited at the prospect of helping found a school that provided educational opportunities for underprivileged kids, from pre-K to sixth grade.
“I really wanted to start a school, and was very into social justice and diversity, giving opportunities to kids,” explains Oliver, noting that 80 percent of the students at New Village Leadership Academy received some form of financial aid, and most of the student body was Black.
Plus, both privately and publicly, the Smiths repeatedly maintained that New Village Leadership Academy was a secular, non-religious school that merely employed study technology.
“All I can say is it is not a Scientology school,” Pinkett Smith told Ebony magazine in 2009. “Now, if you don’t trust me, and you are questioning my integrity, that’s a whole different matter. That is straight evil to think that I would bring families into that educational institution and then try to get them to convert into some religion.”
Former teachers and administrators who spoke to The Daily Beast dispute this characterization.
“They had this course supervisor who had her own Scientology charges, and so I hired a bunch of people who weren’t Scientologists,” says Olivier. “Everyone else there were Scientologists.”
She adds, “There were pictures of L. Ron Hubbard on the walls. And in the study technology book, there was a picture of (Hubbard) and a whole mini-biography of his life, and that was the first thing (kids) had to word clear—before anything. I mean, it was total Scientology. There’s no question.”
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Jawaharlal, who guest-lectured at the school from 2008 to 2010, also says he observed posters of Hubbard on the walls, and that most of New Village Leadership Academy teachers were Scientologists.
“Yes, there were posters on the wall. I didn’t even know who that was!” says Jawaharlal. “There were teachers there who were constantly talking about building materials into the curriculum that were related to Scientology. There were teachers there that I met and I couldn’t even understand what they were saying. There was a geography teacher there, and I’m pretty well-versed in geography, but they were saying this vague stuff. There seemed to be an agenda. I mean, I’d sit in on classes and listen to these teachers and they were using weird words that I didn’t even know.”
Olivier alleges that, in addition to study technology, the New Village Leadership Academy was implementing a number of other Scientology practices, including the “Tone Scale,” charting and analyzing a person’s emotion; the “Qualifications Division” or “Qual,” which verifies results and corrects wrongs; “Debugging,” or breaking down one’s barriers. It would also label people as “Suppressive Persons,” or those who, in the words of Hubbard, seek “to suppress, or squash, any betterment activity or group.”
Leah Remini and Mike Rinder, two former high-ranking Scientologists (Rinder was their ex-spokesman and senior executive) who’ve rededicated themselves to exposing the Church of Scientology’s alleged abuses, say that study technology is a back-door way of getting people into Scientology.
“L. Ron Hubbard’s study technology is a means of infiltrating areas of society: governments, schools, politics. This is pursuant to Hubbard’s policies on ‘allying’ organizations and groups to legitimize Scientology, and also as a first step in getting more of his ‘technology’ into use,” Remini and Rinder told me in a statement. “The concept is that if you can get someone to use one bit of the ‘tech’ they will be so impressed by it that they will want to find out more of his ‘tech.’ This is covered extensively by Hubbard in his ‘Public Relations’ policies, especially in one he titled, ‘The Public Image.’ And so you know, he directed that his ‘study tech’ be ‘secularized’ so it could be introduced to government agencies and public schools without running afoul of the separation of church and state doctrine in the U.S.—and so the front organizations established to do this (in this case, Applied Scholastics International) would be able to get government grants.”
Scientologist Tom Cruise attends the grand opening of Applied Scholastics International’s new headquarters on July 26, 2003, in St.Louis, Missouri. Applied Scholastics is a Scientology-affiliated group.