It Took Almost 30 Years, But OG Aunt Viv Finally Returned To Fresh Prince To Tell Her Side Of The Story
The long awaited official reunion of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air finally aired on HBO Max, bringing together most of the cast members 30 years after the premiere of the groundbreaking family sitcom. It was a major moment for the Banks family, but for one star, the reunion was the first step on a long path to healing her broken heart.
Fans of Fresh Prince obviously tuned in to the reunion to watch our favorite TV family get together and talk about the impact of the show on their lives, but the biggest draw of the TV special was no doubt the reappearance of Janet Hubert, aka Original Aunt Vivian. Hubert played the vivacious college professor and matriarch of the Banks family, her good-natured temperament and designer style a foil to her husband Phillip's (played by the late James Avery) strict parenting and general stuffiness. She was the Aunt Viv that we grew up with and loved, but she was forced out after Fresh Prince's third season and replaced, an executive decision that ultimately created a massive rift between her and Will Smith that spanned decades.
While Daphne Reid (Hubert's replacement) was a staple of the reunion, Smith knew that it would be both inappropriate and impossible to celebrate Fresh Prince without highlighting the influence of one of the cast's most popular characters. So for the first time in over 20 years, he and Hubert sat down face to face to flesh out what had driven them apart.
It was a tearful ordeal for Hubert (and for me — I definitely cried like a baby watching at home). Although we were aware of the rift between the actress and the rest of the cast, no one understood what exactly had caused it beyond the rumors of Hubert being "difficult" and "demanding." But her demeanor on set was actually a direct consequence of a troubled personal life.
Hubert candidly revealed that the last season of Fresh Prince was particularly difficult for her because she felt isolated while filming the show, much in part because of Smith's behavior towards her. Heavily pregnant and working as the sole provider for her family in addition dealing with domestic abuse, coming to work with a smile each day wasn't at the top of her priorities. When the show executives offered her an insultingly bad deal — only two months and two weeks of work, and she wouldn't be allowed to work on any other production — for the next season, Hubert declined. They ended her contract and replaced her with Reid shortly after.
As if cutting ties with the show wasn't bad enough, Hubert shared that her reputation and personal life were damaged by the disparaging comments that Smith made about her in the press. Because the star claimed that she was hard to work with and had a bad attitude, her family felt ashamed of her. Hubert's career was also dealt a massive blow because people simply didn't want to work with her. She essentially became unemployable.
"You took everything away from me with your words," she explained carefully to Smith during their conversation. "Words can kill. I lost everything."
"You were able to move forward, but you know that calling a Black woman 'difficult' in Hollywood is the kiss of death," Hubert continued. "It's hard enough being a dark-skinned Black woman in this business."
Smith appeared to be genuinely remorseful for his role in the downturn of Hubert's career and the personal pain her brought her. He was only 21-years-old at the time, a new star so focused on building his own name that he didn't mind stepping on others in the process. Even though he'll never intimately understand the lived effects of misogynoir because he isn't a Black woman, almost 30 years and a few kids of his own later, the Fresh Prince now has a better idea of what his co-star may have been going through at the time.
"I can see now the level of pain and struggle that it was just for you to show up," he told Hubert at the end of their one-on-one talk. "I could not do a 30-year celebration of this show without celebrating you or the contribution you've made to my life."
They hugged it out, and Hubert later joined the rest of the cast on the recreated Fresh Prince set where she met her replacement for the very first time. The reconciliation was a special moment for the close group of actors as well as for those of us who grew up watching the show in the early 90s. We've always joked about dark-skinned Aunt Viv vs light-skinned Aunt Viv, but there was real pain behind that switch. And now, there's finally some healing, and the gang's back together again! Uncle Phil would be so proud.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special is now available for streaming, only on HBO Max.