This past weekend, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air aired a Reunion Special on HBOMax. During the show, the cast revisited what it was like to be apart of the show as well as behind-the-scenes stories of working together. There was a touching tribute to actor James Avery, who played Uncle Phil, and who passed away years after the end of the show.
The surprising part of the Reunion show was when Will Smith sat down with Janet Hubert, the actress who played the original Aunt Vivian in the first season of the show. During the time that I was watching the show as a young person, she disappeared from the show without a lot of explanation. There were rumblings that there was a problem between Janet and Will, but back then, stories weren’t in-depth on very popular shows. It seemed like a contract dispute.
The special revealed that there was much more tension between the two on the set with Will treating the set as a party atmosphere while Janet, who is Julliard-trained, preferred solitude before a performance.
Their discussion uncovered what led Hubert to create a 2018 YouTube video calling Will Smith out on his role in her eventually quitting the show after being offered a substantial pay cut. Over the years, there were rumors that Janet Hubert felt acting with a Rapper was beneath her training or that she should be the star of the show, but it’s been revealed that wasn’t the truth of what happened.
In the discussion, Will Smith explained that he was twenty-one at the time and he didn’t really understand what was going on for Janet Hubert. Hubert explained that during that time in her life, she was involved in an abusive relationship with an unemployed spouse and had a young child. She felt ostracized by the staff once Will let it be known that they weren’t getting along. When she was offered a significantly lower contract, she declined because her life couldn’t support the reduced salary. They hired another actress, Daphne Maxwell Reid, to take over the role.
However, the damage was done for Janet Hubert and she was unable to find another role while Will Smith’s success soared and he became a superstar.
What was remarkable about this exchange was that Will Smith let Janet Hubert share her entire story from her perspective and he listened to her pain, even when it was hard for him. He didn’t defend his views or his intention. He understood that despite what he intended or how he saw their interactions that his behavior ultimately damaged her. He apologized and he asked for her forgiveness.
At the end of it, they embraced and you could see a change in Janet Huber. Where she looked guarded and in pain, at the beginning of the exchange, she opened up by the end. She pulled Will Smith to her and called him her “baby boy”. It was as if their 27-year feud was gone. And, Janet Huber returned to sit with the rest of the cast and taking her place as a part of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air history.
It was a powerful exchange and an example of what give and take is required to achieve true forgiveness. Both had to be vulnerable and both had to receive.
Will Smith took it a step further and used the Smith family platform, Red Table Talk on Facebook Watch, to further explore the discussion with Janet Huber, but this time aided by a psychologist.
During this session, Will explored how we felt during the discussion and how he achieved turning a very difficult conversation into a moment of redemption for both of them. He had to process that he could cause someone a level of pain that he never wanted to produce in another human being. He also had to see the lie in his own image if he allowed himself to be beloved by everyone else while having someone made bitter by his existence because he couldn’t apologize.
With the psychologist’s help, Will made the connection that his childhood household was chaotic and his way of feeling safe came through his humor. In his child’s mind, he affected the mood in the house by being funny or performing. He continued to think that as long as people were laughing then he was safe. Janet Huber didn’t appreciate the partying or the joking prior to going onstage because, for her, she needed the opposite.
Will Smith admitted that he respected Janet Hubert and James Avery so much that they represented parental figures to him and he fell into his family dynamic. Janet Hubert’s rejection felt unsafe to him and so he lashed out at her in an attempt to control the situation.
What I found monumental about the Red Table Talk episode was here was Will Smith, not only showing how you reach forgiveness within a conversation, but also showing the benefit of therapy in making the connection to the underlying traumas affecting your ability to properly assess a situation.
I do believe that Janet Hubert was healed by the apology and public redemption that was orchestrated by Will Smith. But, I also think Will Smith was healed by seeing how his inner child was approval-seeking and admitting how he handled the situation affected the outcome.
I think we were all healed by seeing that having a deeper conversation can lead to reconciliation when both are ready and accepting.
This post is republished on Medium.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore