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The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion had a lot to live up to, and it definitely delivered in all respects. The special offered plenty of nostalgia and highlighted aspects of the classic sitcom that many may not have been aware of. Of course, the aspect of the reunion many fans were most anxious about was the long-awaited reunion between Will Smith and Janet Hubert, who originated the role of Vivian Banks. It was a raw conversation, especially since Hubert didn’t hold back when explaining the true reason for her leaving the show.
During the third season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (her last on the show), Janet Hubert was pregnant, a development that was written into the show. The actress explained that this caused a bit of “friction” behind the scenes, but things really came to a head when she was offered an unsatisfactory new deal:
Something I would like to clarify is, during that third season when I got pregnant, there were a lot of things going on in my life, and in Will’s life as well. There was some friction because I was pregnant, [and my] home life was not good at all. 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… They offered me this really bad deal in the third season. They said, ‘You’ve got two months and two weeks of work, and you cannot work anywhere else.’ 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 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 gonna recast your role.’ And I said…what could I say? I was hurt deeply. Deeply.
When Janet Hubert departed the show in 1993, it was widely reported that she was fired, though we now know that she actually made the choice to leave the show. During the special, Hubert further explained how her departure had long-lasting effects on her career and personal life:
When I left the show, I had this new baby and no one. My family disowned me, Hollywood disowned me. My family said, ‘You 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 [Will Smith] who banished me. Because you were Will, you were a kid. It was hard.
Many have long discussed the reported rift between Janet Hubert and Will Smith and, in the special, the actor also opened up about his part in Hubert’s exit. When speaking on the subject, he admitted that he could have been more “sensitive” to what Hubert was going through:
You know, during that time of her pregnancy, I wasn’t sensitive. I wasn’t perceptive. And now that I’ve had three kids, I’ve learned some things that I did not know at the time, and I would do some things very differently. But I can see where I made the set very difficult for Janet.
The conversation between the two actors proved to be one of the most emotionally powerful moments in the entire special and would end with the two embracing in reconciliation. Not only that, but Hubert also reunited with her fellow Fresh Prince alums and met fellow Aunt Viv actress Daphne Maxwell Reid for the first time.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a true achievement not only because it captured the magic that made the show so special but because it also beautifully displayed the bond these actors share. And the touching reunion between Smith and Hubert was truly the icing on the cake.
If you haven’t already, check out The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion on HBO Max.