The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of the best TV sitcoms of all time, with one small dark cloud looming overhead: “What happened to Aunt Viv?”
The acclaimed TV series is celebrating 30 years since its inception on NBC in 1990. (Think about that: three decades!) And while people still consider it one of — if not, the — best comedy series ever seen on television, that’s the only unanswered controversy it has.
If you’re not in the know: Back in 1990, Will answered to his mother’s sister, Aunt Viv (Vivian) who was played by Janet Hubert. She was great on the show, had fantastic chemistry with Uncle Phil (rest in power, James Avery), and held her own in the comedic timing department.
Then, without notice or explanation, Daphne Maxwell-Reid replaced Janet Hubert in 1993. She, like Hubert, was great on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The same comedic timing and on-camera chemistry was there, but one thing wasn’t — Janet Hubert.
And for 30 years, there has been speculation and heresay. A couple of interviews and even an Alfonso Ribero stand-up tried to shed light on what many believed was backstage bickering and a ton of Hubert getting testy with the staff, but nothing definitive.
That is, until now.
If you haven’t seen the HBO Max reunion special, turn away. This will dish on all of it. Well, at least the big reason why everyone was tuning in. Bookmark the page and come back. Otherwise, “Just sit right there and I’ll tell you how they became the aunts of a town called Bel Air.”
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Drops the J-Bomb
Look at that? Will Smith bookended by both of Aunt Vivs, Janet Hubert (left) and Daphne Maxwell-Redi (right). And to think, it took 30 years and a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion show to make this happen.
Mysterious. Contentious. And now miraculous! That is what HBO Max gave us all through this enthralling reunion special. It was fantastic to see all the gang reminiscence over the heralded scenes, the Carlton dance, the pop culture, and community transparency of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
And I wasn’t crying over James Avery. Talking about Uncle Phil didn’t have me in tears. You were crying! (It was so good, like a long-awaited hug from a friend long away.)
Actually, if anything, this 1:15 show was much-needed healing. The recreation of the Banks’ house was marvelous. There we are, transported back in time to the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air living room. All the stars are there, except one. And that’s when it happened.
In what must be one of the worst and most uncomfortable segue ways in TV history, Will Smith says, “As a family, we have our things we talk about… and we have our things that we don’t talk about. We never really, together, publicly talk about Janet — and what happened,” he says. “I couldn’t celebrate 30 years of Fresh Prince without finding a way to celebrate Janet.”
BOOM! There she was. We knew it was coming but damn that was cool to see the cast react to seeing Janet Hubert appear out of the shadows. She comes face-to-face with the guy whom she blamed for her departure. (Read the Cliffs Notes of her 2009 memoir Perfection is Not a Sitcom Mom.)
“You’re Still My Aunt Viv”
During the third season — Hubert’s last as Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air — she was pregnant but things at home was “not good at all” and she was “no longer laughing, smiling, joking” because of it.
Rumors spread that she was fired because of being pregnant, because it was against her contract with NBC. That really upset Hubert over the years saying she was “offered and rejected a bad deal.” Her contract stuck her with an NDA, so she wasn’t allowed to work anywhere else when working on the show.
“So that meant my salary was cut, I had a new baby and a husband who was out of work. So I said no, I would not accept their offer.”Janet Hubert, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion, HBO Max
She continued to talk about the internal struggles she felt at home and on the job and shared she was “hurt deeply” that Quincy Jones Productions (along with Will Smith who was producing) said they were going to recast Aunt Viv rather than renegotiate.
“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. It was hard…Janet Hubert, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion, HBO Max
Jaw-dropping dialogue. Janet Hubert didn’t hold back. She needed to say it. That’s almost three decades of pain, and it showed. It was gripping to watch her tell this tale no one ever knew and to see Will Smith’s visceral reaction is something few fans of the show will ever forget.
Will: “I have children. I’ve been divorced and I have a second marriage, and I can see now the level of pain and the level of struggle that it was just for you to show up every day.”
Hubert: “But you took all of that away from me — with your words. Words can kill. I lost everything. Reputation. Everything. And 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. And it’s hard enough being a dark-skinned Black woman in this business. But I felt that it was necessary for us to finally move forward. And I’m sorry that I have blasted you to pieces.”Conversation between Will Smith and Janet Hubert from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special, HBO Max
Then Smith, about to burst into tears, says: “You’re still my Aunt Viv.”
DAMN! The waterworks start, the snot comes, and then the tissues. The rest of the show was full of laughs, tears, memories, and greatness. Go watch this reunion. In 2020, we all needed this!