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Inside The Tumultuous Fresh Prince Feud Between Will Smith And Janet Hubert

During the early 1990s, Will Smith turned his attention away from music and into acting. His first major role came in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," where he played a fictionalized version of himself who gets into trouble at school and is sent away to live with his aunt and uncle in the luxurious environment of Bel-Air. Lasting six seasons and more than 140 episodes, the sitcom kickstarted a career that has made Smith  one of the most successful actors of all time and has even led to a dramatic retelling of the story in the form of 2022's "Bel-Air."

The cast of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" remained largely unchanged for the majority of its run. James Avery played Smith's uncle Phil, Alfonso Ribeiro his cousin Carlton, and Joseph Marcell the family butler Geoffrey, with Karyn Parsons, Tatyana M. Ali, and DJ Jazzy Jeff all having regular roles as well. But the role of Vivian Banks, Will's aunt, was recast in 1993 as Daphne Maxwell Reid replaced the original actor, Janet Hubert.

The story of exactly why this happened and the subsequent fallout over the next 30 years is one of the most interesting and tension-filled aspects of the show, with Smith and Hubert becoming involved in a feud that lasted decades. Here's exactly what went down between the two stars.

Janet Hubert was originally cast as Vivian Banks

Hubert became well-known across the United States and around the world as Vivian Banks, one of the main characters in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." As Will's aunt, she takes a no-nonsense approach to her nephew but is often a more sympathetic figure than her husband, Philip. With an occasionally feisty personality, Vivian has a number of sisters and has to contend with keeping all of her family happy and willingly offers to take Will in to keep him safe and give him a better chance at having a successful life. After the first two seasons, the character took more of a back seat with stories focusing on other characters.

Before landing the role of Vivian, Hubert had performed in a tour of Dancin' before she was cast in a number of Broadway productions, including "Cats" and "The First" (via Broadway World). Her part in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" was the actor's first major role in a television series, with Hubert having had guest appearances in the likes of "21 Jump Street" and "One Life to Live" in the late 1980s (via IMDb). She was also cast in the 1985 Clark Worswick film, "Agent on Ice," as a character named Lola. In 1991, she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for outstanding actress in a comedy series but lost to Jasmine Guy for her performance in "A Different World."

She apparently wanted to have a starring role

It was revealed after Season 3 that Hubert would not be reprising her role as Aunt Viv in future episodes. That means that her last appearance in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" came on May 10, 1993, in the Season 3 finale. No reason was officially given at the time, and while the network did not give any indication, some light was shown on the issue when Smith took part in a radio interview in 1993.

According to TV Line, Smith made it clear that, in his opinion, Hubert was jealous of his success and had wanted a more important role in the series going forward. "I can say straight up that Janet Hubert wanted the show to be The Aunt Viv of Bel-Air Show," he said in the interview. "She said once, 'I've been in the business for 10 years and this snotty-nosed punk comes along and gets a show.' To her, I'm the Anti-Christ."

E! News reports that cast member Alfonso Ribeiro also expressed concerns about her behavior on set. Speaking during a stand-up set he explained that she was very difficult to work with and that she made working on the show miserable: "Long story short, and there 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.'"

Daphne Maxwell Reid replaced Hubert from Season 4

After Hubert was let go from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," attention focused on who would replace the actor as Aunt Viv was still an important character in the series. Daphne Maxwell Reid was eventually chosen and made her first appearance in the show on September 20, 1993, when Viv returns home from the hospital with newborn baby Nicky while Will and Carlton go off to college.

Reid actually began her career as a model rather than an actor, appearing on the cover of Glamour magazine (via The Guardian). Her first television role came in 1979 when she voiced a character in two episodes of "The Duke." She then made a number of appearances in the likes of "A Man Called Sloane" and "T.J. Hooker" before being cast as a series regular in the crime drama "Simon & Simon."

By the time she was cast in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," Hubert had appeared in more than a dozen television shows and went on to appear in 74 episodes of the NBC sitcom.The obvious visual difference between Reid and Hubert was actually referenced in the show. On two separate occasions, Jazz mentions that there is something different about Vivian following the birth of Nicky.

The recasting seemingly came as a surprise to the actor

The fact that Hubert was being replaced on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" apparently came as a major shock for the actor. She seemingly did not expect to be fired or replaced, explaining just how upset she was when she found out about the news. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 1993, Hubert expressed her feelings about the decision. "I was hurt and disappointed," she said at the time. "I'd worked hard and I never saw that coming."

However, Hubert did admit that there were issues behind the scenes that could explain why she did not seem to be a team player to the rest of the cast and crew. Vanity Fair reported that Hubert has said that she was in an abusive relationship during the third season and was also pregnant at the time — both facts that no one else was aware of. "I was no longer laughing, smiling, joking, because there were things that were going on that nobody knew about. The cast had no idea what was going on," she said.

Hubert and Smith didn't get along during Season 3

Hubert believes that her feud with Smith may have been partly to blame for why she was fired. The pair clearly had beef during Season 3 and there was a lot of tension on set. On WABC's "Here & Now" (via ABC 7), Hubert spoke about the negative experiences on set during filming for the show and how she was banished away from the rest of the cast because of the trouble. She went on to say: "They told me I had to go into my dressing room in between takes because I wasn't laughing at Will's jokes."

According to Cinema Blend, Hubert noted that she was told that it was Smith who had made the decision to have her removed from everyone else. "I wasn't unprofessional on the set," she told Smith during a 2020 reunion special. "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 [Will Smith] who banished me."

Smith made life difficult for her on set

ABC 7 reported that Hubert felt that she believes that Smith orchestrated events so that the rest of the cast would not offer her any support or stick up for her, suggesting that they were too focused on making money themselves. At one point, she even accused them of taking money specifically to make life difficult for her, saying, "The cast was offered money to take me down."

For his part, Smith has acknowledged his role and admitted that he understood that his behavior was not what it should have been. During the 2020 reunion special (via the Independent), Smith said, "I can see now the level of pain and the level of struggle that it was just for you to show up every day." According to Cinema Blend, Smith has admitted that he did make things harder than they needed to be for his co-star and acknowledged the hurt he may have caused.

She blamed Smith for her being fired

According to E! News (via Huffington Post), Hubert claimed that both Smith and Ribeiro were responsible for her departure from the sitcom: "My departure was planned for a long time... There will never be a reunion of the Fresh Prince. Will Smith and Alfonso destroyed a 20-year-career with untruths. I got slammed."

Vanity Fair reported that the actor had earlier blamed Smith, suggesting that he had the power and influence to force her out of the series. "He probably is responsible for my firing," Hubert said following a radio interview Smith had recorded. "He has a lot of clout. It's too bad that it's a Black-on-Black attack. I have tried not to name names. I have more class than that. I wish Will would tell the truth. If you're going to talk, tell the truth. He has gotten me fired from the show, and now he's trying to get my career snatched away from me."

In a 2013 interview with The Grio, Hubert further explained why she believes Smith and Ribeiro spoke out against her after she departed the show. "I think what happened, because the audience was so on my side at that time, that Will probably felt like he needed to go out, and he needed to tell a lot of lies," Hubert said. "Alfonso went out to a college and told a lot of lies, but the problem is I have proof that a lot of that didn't happen."

Hubert has since explained that she turned down what she felt was a bad contract

Although Hubert has claimed that Smith was responsible for getting her fired from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," the actor has also made remarks that suggest that the decision was hers. In fact, she claimed that she may have been the reason why she was let go as she turned down a contract that she was offered as she didn't feel like it was good enough.

During the 2020 reunion special (via Entertainment Weekly) Hubert said, "They offered me this really bad deal in the third season" and that she didn't feel like she could accept it because she was a new mother and had an unemployed husband so needed to be making good money. The new contract would have seen her salary cut by a large margin and it appears as if the show's producers were trying to either force her to leave or accept a much less favorable deal.

During the reunion, Hubert also explained that she turned down the offer once she realized what was happening, saying: "So I said no. I did not accept their offer. I was never fired." However, it is almost impossible to know exactly what happened due to the conflicting stories that have come out over the years about the situation.

The rumors of her being difficult effectively stalled her career

Whatever the case, Hubert's departure from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" had long-lasting consequences for the actor. Having developed a reputation for being difficult to work with and causing issues on set, whether these accusations were true or false, put others off working with her and severely limited her career options going forward. In the reunion (via Cinema Blend) she said, "When I left the show, I had this new baby and no one. My family disowned me, Hollywood disowned me. My family said, 'You ruined our name.'"

According to The Washington Post, during her sit-down talk with Smith, Hubert elaborated on the way that the entire affair caused her career to stall. Explaining how it can already be difficult for Black women to find work in Hollywood and be respected, the rumors about her behavior in the sitcom only made matters worse. "I lost everything. Reputation. Everything. And I understand you were able to move forward, but you know those words, calling a Black woman difficult in Hollywood, is the kiss of death."

Hubert at one point claimed she would never appear again with Smith

Hubert has not been afraid of mincing her words in the years since her departure from "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." In fact, she has spoken out several times over the last three decades, explaining how she feels betrayed by Smith and other members of the cast. She has even blasted him in public, telling TMZ in 2011 that she was not prepared to work with the actor again in the future and that she was not prepared to do a reunion for the sitcom. "There will never be a reunion ... as I will never do anything with an a*****e like Will Smith," Hubert said. "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."

According to The Wrap, she later confirmed that she wouldn't want to have a reunion with Smith and attacked Ribeiro for his perceived snub of her during previous reunions with the rest of the cast. In a now-deleted Facebook post, she said, "I know the media h** Alfonso Ribeiro has posted his so called reunion photo. Folks keep telling me about it. He was always the a** wipe for Will."

The pair eventually settled their differences when they appeared together on the reunion episode

The 30th-anniversary HBO Max special, "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion," came in 2020. It featured all of the surviving main cast — including Smith, Ribeiro, Parsons, and DJ Jazzy Jeff — talking about their experience of making the sitcom and what it had done for their careers. Hubert also made an appearance, to the surprise of fans considering her previous statements, where she had a one-on-one chat with Smith.

Arguably one of the most emotional moments in the entire special, it gave both actors an opportunity to reconcile and work out exactly what had happened all those years ago. As Hubert explained her side of the story and everything she had gone through during that time, Smith acknowledged that he hadn't realized how difficult simply coming to work was for her. "During that time of her pregnancy, I wasn't sensitive. I wasn't perceptive," Smith said (via Entertainment Tonight). "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. I can see where I made the set very difficult for Janet."

Smith later went on to say, "I could not do a 30-year celebration of this show and not celebrate you, celebrate your contribution, and celebrate your contribution to my life" while speaking to Hubert as the pair finally settled their differences and apologized.