In an HBO Max special, the main cast of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” joins each other at the recreated set to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the pilot episode’s first air and discuss how the show has shaped the world. The reunion was filmed Sept. 10, with most of the original cast present, including Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Joseph Marcell, DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jeffrey Allen Townes) and both Daphne Maxwell Reid and Janet Hubert who played Vivian Banks at different times during the series. The only notable absence is James Avery, who passed away in 2013.
There are many sentimental memories during the reunion, including the actors sharing their favorite memories with one another. A key moment of the reunion is the one-on-one discussion between Smith and Hubert about her departure from the series and the immediate fallout from her decision. Hubert had been effectively blacklisted as a result of some not-so-nice exchanges of words.
“Calling a Black woman difficult in Hollywood is the kiss of death,” Hubert said.
The fact that Smith and Hubert were able to overcome their differences and talk for the first time in almost 27 years parallels how people will often seek out reconnection in times of importance, such as the times we are living in today.
Much of the reunion’s conversations center around the vast cultural impact “The Fresh Prince” had in the 1990s and how that impact is still evident today. Whether it be sharing how they broke the 4th wall in the sitcom or discussing their unconventional auditions, the stars rehash the iconicness of the show’s conception and reminisce on moments that are still remembered. Woven into these shared stories are clips from all six of the show’s seasons, which further add to the nostalgia. The goal of the original show was to depict a positive representation of a Black family in the mainstream — in which the positivity stemmed from their family dynamic rather than their wealth. In the reunion, the cast recognizes the importance of this representation —
“What we do is not for us,” Tatyana Ali said. However, despite the fond memories, several of the cast members also reflect on how some parts of the show felt disingenuous from a racial standpoint.
Looking at the big picture, the “Fresh Prince” cast is following a larger trend that has been more popular in the last few months. There have been several virtual table reads from other culturally significant movies and series recently as a way to stay relevant during the pandemic, and they have been a welcome relief to the stress of quarantine and lockdown. Reunions such as these offer an escape from the present and allow viewers to get into the mindset of what life was like 20 or even 30 years ago. In this case in particular, the fact that they did not just crank out this reunion on zoom is telling to this idea of escapism. The only people wearing masks during the reunion were the occasional crew members who were blurred out — adding to the illusion of timelessness. In fact, if someone were to watch this in the future, it is likely that they would not even know a pandemic was going on.
The “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion” offers remembrance during a time of loss. It tapped into some of the characteristics that the original show held — most notably family and friendship — to give its audience some inspiration to connect with others and reflect on past successes and mistakes.