The “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was a staple show in many households of the African-American community. The sitcom television series, starring Will Smith, became popular since airing in 1990, from the cast and characters to the catchy theme song. Conversations have even arose about a reboot in the recent years that’s past, and its been recently confirmed that the show’s reboot is finally in the works, with Smith on board.
One thing that has always carried on along with the show’s legacy, was the controversial departure of original “Aunt Viv”, Janet Hubert-Whitten. The actress played the monumental character for the show’s first three seasons, garnering her a nomination for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, until being ultimately replaced by actress Daphne Maxwell Reid for the rest of the show’s duration.
Hubert-Whitten’s departure from the show became one of the most highly publicized departures during that time, after what she described as a feud with the network. In speaking to various media outlets, including JET Magazine, she told them that she believed her termination was due to a vendetta against her. She also claimed that she did not know where the feud originated from.
Over time, the public began to notice that the feud wasn’t with just network officials, but specifically Will Smith himself. The Atlanta Journal quoted Smith saying the actress brought alot of problems to the set that lasted during and well beyond her pregnancy. He was quoted by the publication saying to a local radio station that he believed the actress wanted it to be “The Aunt Viv of Bel-Air Show,” exclaiming, “She’s mad now but she’s been mad all along.” Driving his point further to them, he spoke on a moment he experienced with her, saying “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.”
Over the years, Janet Hubert has not remained silent on the issue, as she’s brought the departure back to the surface for years. Often times she’s called out Smith and her previous co-star Alfonso Ribeiro (who played Smith’s cousin, Carlton Banks). Now, as talks of a reboot become more concrete, another of the show’s beloved cast members, Joseph Marcell (who played the role of Geoffrey, the Butler), is speaking up on the matter.
Marcell recently had a conversation with the Hip-Hop Uncensored Podcast about his relationship with Hubert and his thoughts on the departure. “My relationship with Janet was very, very close,” he says. “I respected her. I thought she was truly excellent at what she did.” At one point, the actor is asked about what he feels caused her departure, and his sentiments echoed that of Smith’s earlier statements. “The show is called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the leading actor, the name that comes first is Will Smith, and that’s how it is, and that’s how it should be. I feel that perhaps Janet was not able to deal with that.”
“Success corrupts. It eats at you,” he continued on. “Success doesn’t bring contentment and satisfaction. It brings in most cases, in all of us…it brings out avarice (extreme greed). It brings out the question of how much is enough?” After many times where the actor had to play mediator between the two, it ultimately led to her untimely departure. He claims to have encouraged her to be honest about what she wanted and to remember the importance of Smith to the show.
“Janet called me and I said, ‘Janet, sweetheart, you have to look at it the way it’s set up. It’s Will’s show and he’s given you as best,” he said. “I’m sure he could give you more, but you are the female lead of the show. You really are. Ask for more money, just don’t create a political impasse where in the end, you are the one who’s going to suffer.’ And those were the words I used. And that was it.” He also states that after her departure, she later regretted it and wished to accept the offer that was presented to her, but later learned the offer was off the table.
Marcell also made it clear that he was not down for the negative conversations surrounding her back then, and will not participate in it now. “I will do nothing to cut Janet’s legs from under her. I will say the truth but I will not put the knife in her,” he told the late James Avery (Uncle Phil). “I will not go to whatever meetings or debriefs and say terrible things about her because that’s not how I operate. She’s a worker like me and I support her.”