One of the defining feuds of our time might soon come to an end. As Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gears up for a reunion on HBO Max, Will Smith has shared a photo of himself smiling alongside the original Aunt Vivian, Janet Hubert. The photo might come as a shock to Fresh Prince die-hards and even casual pop-culture fans, given Smith and Hubert’s highly visible, decades-long fight. To commemorate the occasion here’s a timeline of how it all went down.
Season 3 of Fresh Prince, which aired in 1993, marked Hubert’s last with the show. Despite the usual cloak of “creative differences” being used at the time to explain Hubert’s departure, Smith got a little more candid during a radio appearance later that year.
“I can say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be The Aunt Viv of Bel Air Show because I know she is going to dog me in the press,” Smith said, per E! News. “She has basically gone from a quarter of a million dollars a year to nothing. She’s mad now but she’s been mad all along. She said once, I’ve been in the business for 10 years and this snotty-nosed punk comes along and gets a show.’ No matter what, to her I’m just the Antichrist.”
Hubert was pregnant during the show’s third season, which ended with Aunt Vivian giving birth to the Banks’ youngest child Nicky. During an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hubert revealed that she’d worked up until two days before she gave birth—and that when she returned, she found out her role had been recast. (Daphne Reid took over the role in Season 4.)
“I was hurt and disappointed,” Hubert said. “I’d worked hard and I never saw that coming.”
Hubert went so far as to sue Smith and NBC that same year for defamation, invasion of privacy, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Her suit alleged that Smith became hostile after she got pregnant and lobbied NBC to reduce her salary and screen-time, per the Chicago Tribune. During talk shows, she claimed, Smith had said she frequently “gave me the middle finger and stormed off the set”—accusations she said hurt her marketability as a performer. Hubert lost the suit.
In 2009, Hubert self-published her tell-all book, Perfection Is Not a Sitcom Mom. The AV Club, which reviewed the book, described it as “solely devoted to making [Will Smith] look bad”—although she also apparently saved some words for Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton Banks.
“Alfonso was a large part of my decision to publish this book,” Hubert wrote. “That’s because he has made it his business to continue kissing Smith’s butt by slandering me, sometimes at universities that my son may possibly attend in the near future.” She complained that Smith would say things like “I am God and I can do anything,” and told “Yo momma” jokes on set.
Oddly enough the AV Club notes that rather than being fired from the show, Hubert in her book describes receiving an insultingly low offer for contract renewal, which she declined.
That same year, E! News notes, Ribeiro offered some thoughts on Hubert as well.
“She went nuts!” Ribeiro said of Hubert. “[T]here were days when we were all on the set and she would literally go off on people and they got to a point by the time the second season came around where we’re like, ‘This is unacceptable.’”
He accused her of killing the show’s on-set family vibe. “She, at that point, ruined that, and she made it very difficult for us to work, and unfortunately she was then fired,” Ribeiro said. “They brought in Daphne Maxwell-Reid, who we absolutely loved, and we moved on. Oh well.” And in a final blow, he called her “cuckoo.”
During an interview with BlackAmericaWeb in 2010, The Huffington Post notes, Hubert went into more detail about those alleged jokes Smith told on set.
“I was a dark-skinned, African-American mother, and Will used to tell the you’re-so-black jokes to the audience before the show, and at one point, I came out and stopped him, and the audience went ‘Woooo,’” she said. “He didn’t understand how unbelievably disrespectful that was to women like me... ‘Yo mama’s so black, when she looks at her shoes, she thinks she’s looking in the mirror. Ha, ha!’”
And a year later? Hubert was still on the anti-Smith train. After the actor posted a reunion photo of the cast without her in it, the actress told TMZ, “There will never be a reunion... as I will never do anything with an asshole like Will Smith... He is still an egomaniac and has not grown up. This constant reunion thing will never ever happen in my lifetime unless there is an apology, which he doesn't know the word.”
In 2013 it appeared that Hubert had begun to feel a change of heart. Asked by TheGrio if she would consider participating in a reunion, she said “Absolutely. Even [with] Daphne.”
“I would say to him [Smith], we need to heal this,” Hubert added. “You’ve done some things, you’ve said some things, that were totally untrue and you know that they were untrue. I’ve said some things that I probably should have never said. But you’ve never heard them come from my mouth. Especially the TMZ thing last Christmas; my mom passed away. So there I was again in the media getting beaten up… and you get tired. I’m tired. Aren’t you tired, Will?”
Hubert echoed that sentiment two years later in a 2013 interview with omg! INSIDER. “We need to have a reunion; we have to end this horrible, 21-year war,” she said, adding later, “I think we all owe each other an apology.”
She also claimed once more that there was an unspoken rule on set that no one should reprimand Smith. To that she said, “I had an expression: ‘If you want me to kiss your butt, you have got to put it in my contract.’ He did some heinous, horrible things to me. They were like bad kids. Will and Alfonso were like, especially Alfonso.”
But in 2016, it seems Hubert did another about-face, mocking Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, for urging a boycott among Black performers against the Oscars after the Academy failed to nominate Smith for his work in Concussion.
Hubert slammed Pinkett-Smith for asking Black performers to “jeopardize their career and their standing” in the industry. Plus, she added, “[T]hey don’t care.”
She then turned her attention to Smith: “I seem to remember at option time [on Fresh Prince] coming to you and saying, you know what, Will? You're the star of the show. Why don't we all get together and with you maybe we could get a little raise. Maybe the network since, you know, the show is such a hit and you being the star of the show, your influence would help us greatly like they did on Friends... And your response to me was, ‘My deal is my deal and y’all’s deal is y’all’s deal.’”
“There are those out there that really deserved a nod,” Hubert added, “and Idris Elba was one of them, lord have mercy Beast of No Nation was incredible, that man is an incredible actor,” Hubert added. “...Maybe you didn’t deserve a nomination. I didn’t think, frankly, you deserved a Golden Globe nomination with that accent.”
A month later Hubert said during an appearance on The Real that she’d reached out to Smith and his manager James Lassiter to clear her name of all the allegations of on-set toxicity.
“I begged them,” she said. “I said, ‘I have a family. I need you to tell the world that this stuff didn't happen.’ And I was waiting in my heart thinking somebody would come to me one day and help me, but they didn’t.”
“Because I’ve been trained as a young woman... you always have your dignity and you don't just go ugh, you know?” she continued. “But I realized that that redemption was not going to come unless I did it myself.”
Weeks later, BBC Radio 1Xtra asked Smith at the end of a segment which Aunt Viv he preferred—Hubert’s or Reid’s. And his response was about as diplomatic as they come.
“I think that, you know, both of the Aunt Vivs were really, really fantastic,” he said. “I think when you make a show, any time you make a change it’s gonna be excruciating and painful. I think that Janet Hubert Whitten brought a really powerful dignity to the show... I think she’s brilliant. I think as an artist there’s so many things she does. She sings, she dances, she’s like a really powerful artist. So you know, I loved what she brought to The Fresh Prince.”
But then came another reunion photo kerfuffle: In 2017, Ribeiro posted a reunion photo on Instagram—once again, without the OG Aunt Viv.
Hubert responded in a fiery, now-deleted Facebook post.
“I know the media hoe Alphonso Ribeiro has posted his so called reunion photo,” Hubert wrote. “Folks keep telling me about it. He was always the a-- wipe for Will (Smith). There will never be a true reunion of the Fresh Prince. I have no interest in seeing any of these people on that kind of level.”
As Jada Pinkett-Smith might say, there is certainly a lot of healing that needs to happen. The reunion special is currently set for around Thanksgiving. Only time will tell if the Banks family reunion is the cheerful, cathartic kind of Thanksgiving celebration—or the kind where someone has to hide the turkey carving set so that everyone makes it out alive.