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Retrieved from Instagram/@willsmith

The intergenerational impact of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

By:
Jasleen Bains (@jasleen.bainss)

If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve probably heard about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion streaming on HBO Max. Will Smith, the show’s protagonist who captured hearts everywhere with his humour and charm, has been actively dropping some fire posts through his Instagram and TikTok, giving us an insight into this reunion special.

Thirty years since the show’s inception, the Banks family returned to the set where The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, described during the reunion as “revolutionary, hilarious, and poignant” ran for six years in the 90s.

Here, the cast discussed everything from their experience auditioning to unpacking the tension between Will Smith and Janet Hubert, also known as the original Aunt Viv.

If you’re a fan of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, this reunion is a must-see.

I was born in the late 90s, and while growing up in the early 2000s, I was introduced to The Fresh-Prince of Bel Air through reruns of the show. Like many others, I was immediately drawn to the storyline and personalities of the characters.

The sarcasm displayed by Geoffrey; uncle Phil’s kind but intimidating demeanour; Will’s wits; and of course, Carlton’s signature dance. All of these traits are memorable for many, even if you haven’t watched the show, due to the way the cultural references have transcended time.

What I loved most about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is how it connected my family, as I would listen to my dad, who was a fan of the show since the early 90s, talk about the show with such charisma and pure joy.

My dad arrived in Canada in 1993 from Punjab, India. Like many others who left home at a young age, the transition to a new country wasn’t easy, but he luckily had the support of his brother and his family, making the experience a bit less lonely.

It was around this time when 90s family-based sitcoms were dominating screens everywhere, with shows like Full House and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which happen to be two of my dad’s favourites out of the multiple shows he would watch.

During his first few years in Canada my dad lived with my uncle and aunt and their son. When it came to decide what was going to be playing on their television, my dad explained that “whatever your cousin wanted to watch, that’s what we would watch.”

One of the shows that would routinely play was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

“I would come home from school and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would be playing. It was so funny, and it taught me a lot about how different families live.”  

Watching the show became a routine for my dad. It’s been 27 years since he arrived in Canada and to this date he clearly remembers the personalities of the characters and the storylines from many of the episodes in a way that even I don’t, despite having watched the show multiple times.

That is the power that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air holds years later.

During the reunion, the cast discussed how they didn’t even realize what an impact the show was having in so many places and for so many types of people.

In my dad’s case, re-watching or talking about episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air goes beyond simply discussing a show, but it reminds him of those days he spent adjusting to a new country, while watching something that brought him joy and taught him about an aspect of family life and Black culture he was never introduced to prior to watching television.

As explained by Tatyana Ali who played Ashley Banks on the show, “the excellence was the way we loved each other.”

These feelings of love translated in the acting and script, as the show portrayed a family who had its ups and downs, but still pushed through together in a hilarious manner.

These themes of togetherness and perseverance stuck with viewers, like my dad, who despite having a limited understanding of the culture, society, and even country that the show took place in at the time, resonated with it on a deep level.

“Uncle Phil was my favourite character. I loved the billiards episode where Uncle Phil tricked everyone and beat them in a game in one turn.”

My dad remembers signature lines spoken by Uncle Phil and many of his iconic scenes, including the pool hall scene that took place in the episode titled “Banks Shot” described above and how he would consistently toss out Will’s friend Jazz. A favourite for many, Uncle Phil played by the late James Avery, was particularly memorable, as his character worked hard to hold the Banks family together.

This was the case off screen as well.

The tribute to James Avery who died in 2013 was a particularly emotional part of the reunion. This section granted fans a special insight into the relationship the cast had with Phil. According to them, not only was he an integral character to the show’s storyline, but off-screen he served as a valuable mentor who planted seeds of wisdom everywhere he went.

Although as fans we didn’t know James Avery in real-life, his character on screen left a lasting impact.

The idea of the show itself translates to so many different places.

Often, as young people who identify as second-generation Canadians, we lack common shows and entertainment that connect us to our parents who grew up in an entirely different country.

That is why having common forms of entertainment that everyone in my family was passionate was huge. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air plays an integral role in this for my family.    

The routine my dad established when he first arrived in Canada of watching popular tv and movies collectively has continued as he built his own family with my mom.

As mentioned in the reunion special, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had an intergenerational impact, and my family, like so many others, is an example of this.

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