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Interview: Jabari Banks And Coco Jones Discuss The Authenticity of ‘Bel-Air’

All eyes were on Bel-Air when Peacock teased the dramatic reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air this past December. The new series was introduced as a gritty recalibration of the 90s sitcom, a tall order considering its predecessor has been cemented in pop culture for decades.

Much like the original, Bel-Air sees Will Smith (Jabari Banks) embarking on a new life in Bel-Air after getting in trouble in the streets of West Philly. Viewers experience a drama modernized for our times as the series explores Will confronting his roots and navigating classism through his experiences with the Banks family.

Breathing new life into a classic is a big gamble, but it paid off and has turned into Peacock’s most-streamed series. “We know we’re standing on the shoulders of giants, but with that, we’ve been able to blaze a path of our own, which is beautiful,” said Jabari Banks.

Banks added, “When I read the script, I thought, ‘Oh, this has something to say!’

The show gives each character its own journey to explore through familiar archetypes. “I was apprehensive concerning my culture and if they were going to accept something new,” said actress Coco Jones, who plays Hilary Banks.

The essential part of Bel-Air working is seeing how the different personalities click and bounce off of each other, just as they did decades ago. Each character had to feel unique and believable as a unit, cited Banks.

“[Writer and Director] Morgan [Cooper] always says, if we’re going to tell a story about a family, we’re going to have to build a family,” stated Banks. “It was important to not only cast people who fit the archetype of who this character is, but cast genuine people who would be beautiful to work with.”

One of the most dynamic discoveries is how writers updated Will’s once hilarious and ditzy older cousin (once played by Karyn Parsons), now turned social media influencer and chef. While Hilary (Coco Jones) still has the most fashionable looks on TV, her character has substance.

“I think the most exciting part for me is getting to represent Hilary as more goal-oriented,” said Jones. “She’s more of a hustler. She really has a vision of what her life is going to be like, and she refuses to put herself in a box.” Jones continued, “I was excited to present a different dynamic to her that’s more headstrong and a role model.”

Each character’s perspective feels authentic and relevant to our times, whether Hilary is putting her roots into her social media content, Will dealing with classism, or Carlton’s struggle with his Blackness. That authenticity is something writers lead with when exploring the storylines.

“We wanted to lean into the authenticity of what it looks like when a young Black man gets in trouble, and he has to move across the country to a whole new lifestyle?” said Banks. The writers delve deeper into issues the original skimmed the surface on. “There’s issues dealing with PTSD, mental health, status, and class. It was dope that we got to touch on these topics. It’s important not only for us as a culture but for us as a world to see this coming of age story.”

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was pure lightning in a bottle, and although Bel-Air is following in its footsteps, they’re quickly forging a new path.
“[We wanted] to represent Black stories in a new way, and hopefully, further those storylines that don’t stereotype what being Black is,” said Jones. “Being Black can be anything.”

Bel-Air is currently available to stream on Peacock.

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Written by Niki Cruz

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