By Ethan Alter,
Warning: This post contains spoilers from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion.
Now this is the story of how The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast got flip-turned upside down. As fans of the beloved ‘90s sitcom know, midway through the NBC show’s six-season run, Janet Hubert aka the O.G. Aunt Viv was unceremoniously shown the door, replaced by Daphne Maxwell Reid. And on her way out, Hubert took shots at the show’s star, Will Smith, as being one of the reasons behind her exit after he described her as being “difficult” on set. That instigated a feud that continued for nearly three decades. But Smith and Hubert hug it out, literally, in the new HBO Max special, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion. Premiering on Nov. 19, the 75-minute reunion features the duo’s first face-to-face conversation since 1993… and it’s as emotionally charged as any episode of Red Table Talk.
During their tearful reunion, Hubert revisits the circumstances surrounding her departure, revealing information that Smith hadn’t been aware of previously. “They offered me this really bad deal in the third season,” the actress says, claiming that the network sought to cut her hours and her salary heading into Season 4. Meanwhile, Hubert was also in a difficult domestic situation, having just given birth to her son and experiencing trouble in her marriage to James Whitten. (The couple divorced in 1994.) “You didn’t realize that I was going through a lot at home,” she tells Smith in the reunion special. “You guys didn’t know. [It was] a very abusive marriage.”
Hubert says that she ultimately rejected NBC’s terms, and at that point the network decided to recast her role. “I wasn’t fired,” she stresses. “The misconception was always put out there.” It didn’t help that she and Smith were having conflicts on set, with the then-21-year-old star expressing frustration with her. “We knew you were going to be huge,” Hubert says of Smith’s influence behind the scenes. “I had this baby and no one [else]. Family disowned me, Hollywood disowned me. I just stopped talking to everybody because I was banished, and they said it was you who banished me.”
Hubert also said that Smith’s interviews about her departure prevented her from finding other jobs. “Words can kill,” she tells the actor. “I lost everything — my reputation, everything. Calling a Black woman ‘difficult’ in Hollywood is the kiss of death.” For his part, a visibly moved Smith apologizes on behalf of his younger self. “I wasn’t sensitive, I wasn’t perceptive,” he says. “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. But I can see where I made the set very difficult for Janet.” The actor also describes being “driven by fear” at that age, and that led him to view the world around him as a threat. “I can see now the level of pain and the level of struggle that it was just for you to show up everyday,” he tells Hubert.
Smith and Hubert’s conversation was filmed separately from the star’s group hang with the rest of the Fresh Prince cast, including Reid, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali, Jospeh Marcell and Jeffrey Townes aka DJ Jazzy Jeff. But after showing the ensemble footage of their chat, Smith proceeds to stage the ultimate Fresh Prince family reunion by inviting Hubert into the Banks family living room. In a history-making moment, the show’s two Aunt Viv’s share the screen as Reid and Hubert meet — and embrace — for the first time. “I cannot tell you how unbelievable and wonderful it feels,” Hubert says. And Smith makes it clear that he’s putting the past in the past: “I’m so happy that we were able to make that reconciliation, and I hope other people can take something from it.”
Smith and Hubert’s make-up session is the emotional high point of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion, but the special offers some other behind-the-scenes revelations as well. We’d like to take a moment, just sit right there, and we’ll tell you what went down on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.