Will Smith And Aunt Viv Finally Confronted Their Decades-Long ‘Fresh Prince’ Rift —”It’s hard enough being a dark-skinned black woman”
The Tale of Aunt Viv was probably every millennial’s first-ever encounter with a celebrity feud played out on screen. Vivian Banks was the beloved maternal aunt of Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince” and captivated the hearts of young viewers for her no-nonsense and nurturing character. She was astute, career-driven, and had some incredible vocal chops. Or at least, that’s how she was when actress Janet Hubert portrayed her during the first two seasons. Then actress Daphne Maxwell Reid took on the role. Suddenly Aunt Viv became quite a bit less fiery and more likely to support her children’s strange decisions. Still lovable, not totally recognizable.
Of course, it didn’t take long for rumors about a set dispute between Hubert and Smith to reveal that the original Aunt Viv had been forced out of the role. The rumors became one of the biggest bits of celebrity chisme in homes and got more attention as the characters made jokes about Hubert. You may remember Will occasionally referring to Hubertin family photos as looking “mannish.”
Fortunately, it looks like Will Smith and his former co-star Janet Hubert are finally having a heart-to-heart about their old brawl.
In an emotional episode of The Red Table Talk, Will Smith sat down with Janet Hubert ahead of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast reunion to lay it all out there. Jumping into Jada-mode, Smith sat down with Hubert at the Red Table to discuss why campaigned against Aunt Viv almost thirty years ago.
You might remember Smith claimed in a radio interview soon after Hubert was pushed out from the show that he could “say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be The Aunt Viv of Bel-Air show, because I know she is going to dog me in the press… She has basically gone from a quarter of a million dollars a year to nothing. She’s mad now, but she’s been mad all along. She said once, ‘I’ve been in the business for 10 years, and this snotty-nosed punk comes along and gets a show.’ No matter what, to her, I’m just the Anti-Christ.”
In response, Hubert hit back saying “He probably is responsible for my firing… He has a lot of clout. It’s too bad that it’s a Black-on-Black attack. I have tried not to name names. I have more class than that. I wish Will would tell the truth. If you’re going to talk, tell the truth. He has gotten me fired from the show, and now he’s trying to get my career snatched away from me.”
Of course, neither of their interviews told the whole story. During the reunion special, Hubert revealed that she found herself stuck in an abusive relationship during the third season and pregnant. “I was no longer laughing, smiling, joking because there were things that were going on that nobody knew about. The cast had no idea what was going on.”
Hubert revealed that during the third season of the show she was edged out with a deal she could not accept. “They said you’ve got two months and two weeks of work, and you cannot work anywhere else,” she revealed. “That meant my salary was cut. I had a new baby and a husband who was out of work. So I said no. I did not accept their offer. I was never fired. So the misconception was always put out there. I was trapped. What could I do? So they said, ‘Okay, we’re going to recast your role.’ And I said, what could I say? I was hurt deeply.”
In a separate interview, Smith admitted he “wasn’t sensitive, I wasn’t perceptive… Now that I’ve had three kids, I’ve learned some things I did not know at the time and I would do things very differently. I can see where I made the set very difficult for Janet.”
Speaking on the Red Table Talk, Hubert told Smith how her life fell apart after show.
“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,” she explained. “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 banished me. Because you were Will. You were a kid. It was hard.”
“I was 21 years old. Everything was a threat to me,” Smith explained. “I was so driven by fear and jokes and comedy, and all of that.”
In a separate interview for the Red Table Talk, Smith spoke with YouTube’s Dr. Ramani Durvasula to go over clips of his sit-down with Hubert to dive into his behavior and mindset as a rising sitcom star.
Smith explained that the childhood abuse he experienced at the hands of his father caused him to feel a deep sense of insecurity. “On my ‘little boy in me’ level, I needed Mommy to think I was great,” he explained, referring to his desire to have Hubert’s approval. “And then once I realized that she didn’t, my dragon woke up.”
This behavior, Hubert says, destroyed her career. “Words can kill,” Hubert told Smith. “I lost everything. Reputation, everything. Everything. I understand, you were able to move forward but you know those words, calling a black woman difficult in Hollywood is the kiss of death. It’s hard enough being a dark-skinned black woman in this business but I felt it was necessary for us to finally move forward. And I’m sorry that I have blasted you to pieces.”
In the end Smith and Hubert seemed to find strength and love for each other in their reunion. “I am so thankful for all the love being shown and the understanding,” Hubert tweeted Thursday. “Will and team let me participate in whatever I wanted and felt comfortable doing. After 27 years of disconnect, we are all different people. It was great seeing everyone, life is too short!”
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