The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special clears up the facts about the re-casting of Aunt Vivian. Here’s what really happened to Janet Hubert.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special cleared up the facts about the controversy around the replacement of the original Aunt Vivian Banks. For decades, it’s been rumored that actress Janet Hubert was fired after clashing with star Will Smith, however, the HBO Max 30-year celebration program reveals a different side of the story. Hubert makes a special appearance in the reunion episode and states that she walked away from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for personal reasons.
Much of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special involves the original cast members reflecting on the early years of the NBC series. Smith jokes about his untraditional audition while attending a party at Quincy Jones’ home, and notes that the original comedic focus of The Fresh Prince was centered on Will’s friction with Uncle Phil, portrayed but the late James Avery. In retrospect, many fans of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air may often correlate the Aunt Vivian character with Daphne Maxwell Reid, but the reality is that Hubert appeared in 73 episodes during the first three seasons.
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After an emotional video tribute to Avery in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air special, Smith surprises his former castmates by addressing a difficult topic. “As a family,” he says, “we have our things that we talk about, and then we have our things that we don’t talk about.” Smith then states that he couldn’t celebrate 30 years of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air without celebrating Hubert’s contributions, and reveals that he recently spoke with her for the first time in 27 years. During a recorded interview segment, Smith asks Hubert to tell her story and she reveals her personal life issues ad her pregnancy led to her departure “You have no idea,” the actress says before stating the truth about her departure, what the controversy cost her, and how it affected her reputation as a Black actress in Hollywood.
Hubert tells Smith about the context for leaving The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She was pregnant during season 3, and had also been experiencing “a very abusive marriage.” Hubert links her behind-the-scenes stress to her on-set demeanor, stating “I was no longer laughing, smiling, joking because there were things that were going on that nobody knew about.” She also reveals that NBC offered her “a really bad deal” and didn’t allow her to pick up any other work. Incidentally, Hubert decided not to return. “I was never fired,” she says on the reunion special, “I was trapped.” Hubert then explains to former co-star Will Smith what she was feeling at the time:
“When I left the show, I had this new baby and no one. Family disowned me. Hollywood disowned me. My family said, ‘You’ve ruined our name.’ And I wasn’t unprofessional on the set. I just stopped talking to everybody because I didn’t know who to trust because I had been banished, and they said it was you who – who banished me because you were – you were Will. You were a kid.”
The Hubert sequence ends with Smith opening up about his hopes and fears while filming The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and discussing how much he’s changed after being married twice and raising children. The actor admits that he did indeed make life difficult for Hubert during production, but now realizes that he didn’t understand what she was experiencing as a woman. Hubert later joins The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast for the reunion at the original set, and also meets her replacement, Reid, for the first time. During an interview clip, Hubert sums up her thoughts on the overall experience:
“I don’t know if it’s real. I feel like this is a dream. I didn’t come here to have animosity, I came here to resolve… ’cause it’s time.”
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