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Cassandra Freeman Discusses Bel-Air's Grounded Approach To The Banks Family's Wealth - Exclusive

The Peacock drama "Bel-Air," like its predecessor "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," is built on the culture clash that happens when Will (now played by Jabari Banks), who grew up poor in Philadelphia, moves to the titular Southern California neighborhood to live with his rich aunt and uncle. Through this setup, the reboot becomes a nuanced exploration of class that never caricatures the well-to-do. Instead, the Banks family is presented with sympathy and depth, ensuring their wealth doesn't define them.

As the Banks family patriarch and matriarch Philip and Vivian, actors Adrian Holmes and Cassandra Freeman, respectively, present their characters as people still striving despite their enormous resources. Philip is running for District Attorney, but is having a hard time connecting with Black voters, many of whom think he's out of touch because of his money. Meanwhile, Vivian is grappling with giving up a promising painting career to care for her children and support her husband's aspirations — a choice she's beginning to rethink. 

Holmes and Freeman sat down exclusively with Looper to discuss why the show's depiction of the Banks' wealth sets "Bel-Air" apart.

'Bel-Air' presents a portrait of 'wealth builders'

While the Banks may be well-off in "Bel-Air," the show quickly establishes that they have the same problems as many other people. "Wealth doesn't mean that you are without troubles," actress Cassandra Freeman (who plays Aunt Viv) observed in an interview with Looper. "I keep saying, it's not so much about the currency inside your bank account as the currency of the family and the relationships that you build. The quality of your life is really built on the quality of your relationships, and this show really echoes that sentiment, [along with] trying to humanize a regular family and love."

Moreover, even though Philip and Vivian look at home in their tony world when we meet them, neither of them were born into wealth, something Freeman and Holmes note sets the show's portrayal of class apart. "When you see [wealth] through Black people, it's almost like looking at it through an immigrant's experience of, 'These are people who didn't come from money,'" Freeman explained. "These are people who came from North Carolina, who came from Philadelphia."

As a result, Holmes pointed out, Philip and Vivian "worked hard" to get where they are. And as Freeman added, "That's true for a lot of people who are first generation wealth builders as they are." Freeman went on to acknowledge that this helps set "Bel-Air"'s depiction of the Banks family apart from other wealthy TV families. "That's the thing that you get to see in this [show]," she reflected. "In some shows, they try to pretend like that doesn't happen and we're about the aspiration of the money, and instead, it's like, 'What about the whole culture? What about the family?' In general, even our relationship to each other and to the family, it's a lot of subtle conversations that actually haven't been talked about before."

New episodes of "Bel-Air" are available on Thursdays on Peacock.