Janet Hubert played Aunt Vivian on Fresh Prince of Bel Air for three seasons before she was said to have been fired. Why did she leave the series? Why was she replaced?
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast reunited for a 30th anniversary reunion special on HBO Max on Thursday, November 19, 2020. The special – produced by Will Smith’s company Westbrook Media – featured Will Smith, Tatyana Ali, Karyn Parsons, Joseph Marcell, Daphne Maxwell Reid, Alfonso Ribeiro, Janet Hubert, and DJ Jazzy Jeff for the occasion. Actor James Avery – who played Uncle Phil – died in 2013.
Smith made the announcement earlier this year on September 10, 2020, exactly 30 years since the the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air first debuted. Smith posted a selfie of the cast with the caption, “Today is exactly 30 YEARS since The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air debuted! So we’re doin’ something for y’all… a for real Banks Family Reunion is comin’ soon to @HBOmax! RIP James. #FreshPrince30th”
The six-season NBC sitcom aired in the 1990s and focused on Smith’s character who was born and raised in Philadelphia. Smith then moved to a wealthier side of the city to live with his Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian. But Aunt Vivian was played by two actresses. For the first three seasons, Janet Hubert played the maternal figure, but for the last three seasons, Daphne Maxwell Reid replaced Hubert.
Will Smith & Janet Hubert Didn’t Get Along
After season 3 of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hubert left the series. At the time, Smith said on a radio show, as reported by Us Weekly, “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. 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.’”
Hubert didn’t stay silent on the matter and has shared her side of the story as well. “Janet Hubert was never difficult on that set. Janet Hubert was so professional, it wasn’t even funny,” the actress said on The Real in 2016. “I think Will simply needed to win, and I think sometimes when you get caught up in a lie and those things never happened. She never left the set. I never left the set. We got along great.”
The 64-year-old actress added that she believes Smith’s young age at the time played a factor in her leaving. “I think he was young and he was inexperienced,” she said.
“I went back to them in 2009 I and said, ‘Please, I need you to clear my name,” Hubert said on The Real in 2016, as recorded by Us Weekly. “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 had been trained as a young woman, you always have you dignity…but I realized that redemption was not gonna come unless I did it myself.”
Hubert even went on the record saying she had no interest in rekindling her friendship with any of the cast members. “There will never be a reunion … as I will never do anything with an a**hole like Will Smith,” Hubert told TMZ in 2011. “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.”
Smith Admitted His Fault In Hubert Leaving the Sitcom
#FreshPrinceReunion My Heart is so full right now. Thank you Will I love you.
— Janet Hubert (@OGJanetHubert) November 19, 2020
During the HBO Max special, Smith and Hubert sit down for an honest conversation. The actress opened up to Smith, confessing that she struggled during the third season with both a pregnancy and an abusive marriage, the Los Angeles Times reported. Hubert was married to James Whitten, and they divorced in 1994.
The 15-minute conversation segment begins with Hubert admitting, “This has been tough. Has it been tough for you?” Smith agreed saying, “Yes it has.”
Hubert then discussed what that time in her life meant to her. “Home life was not good at all,” she told Smith, as reported by USA Today. “I was no longer laughing, smiling, joking because there were things that were going on that nobody knew about.”
Hubert denied getting fired and instead said she was “trapped” after being offered a reduced salary in the third season, according to the LA Times. “When I left the show, I had this new baby and no one. Family disowned me. Hollywood disowned me. My family said, ‘You’ve ruined our name.’”
She then addressed rumors of her being quiet and distant during the show. “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 who banished me,” she said, according to USA Today.
Smith acknowledged that he may not have handled her personal situation the best at the time. “During that time of her pregnancy, I wasn’t sensitive,” he told Hubert, according to USA Today. “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 things very differently. But I can see where I made the set very difficult for Janet.”
Hubert and Smith appear to be on good terms, as she tweeted on November 18, “Thank you all for the love…the understanding especially you Will. It was amazing seeing you all again. Be blessed, this is my story all about how…healing happened.”