Janet Hubert, the first Aunt Viv, explains why she left Fresh Prince

The original cast of The Fresh Prince reunited for a special on HBO Max this week. They’re celebrate the show’s 30th anniversary. Will Smith even brought back the original Aunt Viv played by Janet Hubert.

Janet and Will had a “falling out” during her tenure at Fresh Prince. Janet was eventually replaced in season three with Daphne Maxwell Reid. Daphne played the role of Aunt Viv from 1993 until the show wrapped in 1996. Daphne replacing Janet created a very public 27 year long beef between Will and Janet. Janet had just had a baby when she found herself dumped by the show and subsequently Hollywood because she was labeled “difficult” by Will Smith. Will brought Janet back for the reunion to bury the hatchet and talked through what happened that led to her exit from the show. Below are a few excerpts from the reunion show via Too Fab:

Before the conversation began, both Smith and Hubert acknowledged in separate confessionals the issues they had on set back in the day.

“During that third season, when I got pregnant, there was a lot of things going on in my life and Will’s life as well. There was some friction because I was pregnant. Home life was not good at all,” explained Hubert. “I was no longer laughing, smiling, joking because there were things going on nobody knew about. The cast had no idea what was going on.”

Smith admitted he “wasn’t sensitive” to her situation. “I wasn’t perceptive and now that I’ve had three kids I’ve learned some things I did not know at the time and I would do things very differently,” he said to the camera. “I can see why I made the set very difficult for Janet.”

She went on to explain that she was offered a “really bad deal,” where she would only work for two months and two weeks and couldn’t work anywhere else. “That meant my salary was cut, I had a new baby and a husband who was out of work. I said no,” she said. “I did not accept their offer. I was never fired. The misconception was always put out there. I was trapped, what could I do.”

“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 and I wasn’t unprofessional on the set,” she said to Smith. “I just stopped talking to everybody because I didn’t know who to trust, I had been banished. They said it was you who banished me. Because you were Will, you were a kid. It was hard.”

“You didn’t realize I was going through a lot at home. You didn’t know,” she said, before claiming she was in a “very abusive marriage.”

[From Too Fab]

I am so glad Janet and the rest of the cast were reunited. It was great to see Janet hug Daphne as well because I remember there being a lot of anger from Janet toward everyone and rightly so. It is good that Will is mature enough now to be open and honest about his role in getting Janet black listed in Hollywood. To me Janet will always be THE Aunt Viv.

I also recall at the time that many fans of the show, including myself, felt that Daphne replacing Janet was steeped in colorism. Janet stated in the conversation that by labeling her, a dark skinned black woman, “difficult” Will effectively ended her career. That part of the conversation was sad to me. The fact that her family disowned her and she was being abused in her marriage makes the situation even worse. At the time, Will was young, newly rich and powerful and I am sure that went to his head. I am also sure he didn’t realize the extreme impact of his words.

Despite the pain, I am glad that everyone was able to reunite, makeup and forgive. It was big of Janet as well to apologize for the several decades of dragging Will Smith publicly every chance she got. Hopefully, with the true story being out, Janet can return to do some work in Hollywood if that is what she wishes to do. In the mean time, I do hope not only Will but other Black men, particularly in Hollywood, learn a valuable lesson from that conversation.

On a side note, I absolutely love this cute promo Will, Daphne, and Janet did.

The scene where Janet solidified herself in our hearts as Viv:

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56 Responses to “Janet Hubert, the first Aunt Viv, explains why she left Fresh Prince”

  1. smegmoria says:

    Bygones?!

  2. Wiglet Watcher says:

    It no uncle Phil…
    I don’t really see a point to bringing this show back. Phil was such a huge character.

    That they replaced aunt Vic with a lighter and toner actress was a big deal.

    • Noki says:

      This was only a reunion ,I Think the reboot is a different cast all together.

      Yeah Janet and Daphne were opposite in every way. It definitely sent a message that the light skinned meek black woman is better than the loud dark over opinioted one.

    • ArmyBrat says:

      James Avery (Uncle Phil) passed away in 2013.

    • HeyJude says:

      I think James of all people would have been fine with them reuniting despite his passing. He always took pride in that role so much even decades later and kept in touch with everyone, if I’m not mistaken. I imagine if there’s any afterlife he was their in spirit for sure.

  3. Cee says:

    She’s a much bigger person than I could ever be.

    • Yup, Me says:

      She spent 20+ years in a righteous rage about it. Yes, Will absolutely harmed her career, but I can’t imagine the harm she’s done to herself (and others) in that time. If 20+ years later, you can’t drop the rage, receive your apology and have an honest conversation, then what have you done with your time?

      • Seraphina says:

        I hear both of you and it’s just sad when things like this happen. Hell yeah she was raging angry, she lost everything and had a new baby – raging hormones and all.
        But giving a young star, who is without life experience, was a huge mistake. I don’t blame Will, he didn’t know any better but where are the others who were older, mature and more experienced????? They too share some of the blame.

        BTW, I the original Aunt Viv was my favorite. She felt real, like my mom. Daphne felt like a cookie cutter African American version of June Cleaver.

      • Amelie says:

        Yeah but he ruined her livelihood. Black women have it hard the most of all and young Will Smith had his head up his own a** and took away her financial stability while she was dealing with a new baby and abusive marriage. Will being young doesn’t get a pass from me. I would find it very hard to forgive that. Over the years, I’ve always gotten a creepy vibe from Will Smith. He really does think he’s all that.

      • Wrin says:

        I’m just glad/happy to see them admit their wrongs and find peace and resolution. I dream of a world where this is the norm.

  4. Bibi says:

    The real aunt Viv was FIERCE. I absolutely loved her powerful vibe. Replacement aunt Viv’s personality was much different and it always felt to me like she was fake aunt Viv. Everytime I saw her, I was disappointed not seeing the original one, or reminded she was gone. Daphne would have been ok if we didnt have Janet at first. She was never forgotten. Im glad this rift is over.

    • Wilma says:

      The real aunt Viv was GOALS. She was an amazing character the way Janet Hubert portrayed her.

    • Seraphina says:

      Bibi, Agreed!!! I always felt the real Aunt Viv was real, relatable. Daphne seemed like a cookie cutter African American version of June Cleaver.

      • M.A.F. says:

        Yep. She went from being a lawyer (was she also a professor?) to just being a stay-at-home-mom and having no presence. Nothing wrong with being a stay at home mom but the OG Aunt Viv was such a strong character and then all of a sudden she wasn’t.

    • Green Desert says:

      She was. Anyone else remember Aunt Viv’s dance? I urge everyone to Google it. For some reason that made a huge impression on me. She schooled those younger women. :)

      • Mel says:

        That dance was AMAZING! That scene is always how I remember her, I didn’t know much about the actress but always thought she must have been a dancer at some point in her life/career because of the dance scene, but also her body and the way she carried herself with such elegance always reminds me of a dancer.

    • The Recluse says:

      I loved the original Aunt Viv. It just wasn’t the same when she was gone.

    • Betsy says:

      I grew up in a white part of a white state; I knew of no black people personally, so my first introduction to African American culture was the Cosby Show, 227, Amen, and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

      Clair Huxtable and Aunt Viv were such sophisticated, elegant women characters who knew themselves and knew their value and I was so pissed when Aunt Viv disappeared. She was indeed, GOALS, as Wilma puts it.

    • HeyJude says:

      Yes, the original Aunt Vi had such a spark. She was so feisty and funny. She always had a snarky joke and was a very strong character.

      Second Aunt was always written either too bland or like a total pushover.

    • Bread and Circuses says:

      Yes, I didn’t watch much of the show after they replaced Aunt Viv because to me, Daphne just did not have the comedic timing or the spark. As Bibi said, she would have been fine if we didn’t know what we were missing.

  5. MapleAngel says:

    Today’s Celebitchy is so throwback! Will smith, Jane Seymour, Jen Anniston, and Jewel! Am o back in university in the 90s??

  6. Kittylouise says:

    I loved the first aunt Viv. How awful what happened to her, professionally and with her family. That’s really heartbreaking. I hope she’s in a better place now. Doesn’t she look tremendous too!

    • lucy2 says:

      I liked her too. It really is sad. I can’t imagine going through all that personal stuff, and then not only losing your job, but your whole CAREER. It’s sad she didn’t feel she could tell people what was going on in her life, and that no one in charge of the show attempted to reach out to her when things were starting to get bad.
      She does look awesome.

  7. Mignionette says:

    I still think this relationships reboot will end badly. Just a feeling based on the clips I’ve seen

    Will seems out at sea since his film roles have stopped coming in. The whole entanglement situation earlier this year also makes me think he’s going through a midlife crisis hence all this nostalgia and revisiting of the past.

    • MsIam says:

      What are you talking about? Bad Boys for Life was the second highest grossing movie this year almost a half billion dollars even with COVID. And he’s also doing the Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Kevin Hart. Will is doing fine.

      • Ames says:

        Role stopped coming in? Yeah … huh?

        What you said, and I’d also add: 2019′s Aladdin reboot grossed over $1B worldwide.

  8. Soupie says:

    I love Will as an actor and I absolutely adored Fresh Prince but I feel there should be some sort of financial restitution. Will’s cetainly got the money. There was a period it seems of about 10 years where Janet really struggled with a little child.

    From Janet’s Wikipedia page I see that she’s had some pretty steady work though not a whole lot since 2005 and I guess she’s now on General Hospital. Again, it would be nice if Will who can totally afford it gave or gives Janet some green and I hope he did. Not a slap in the face or offensive to Janet, just Due IMO.

    Janet will always be Aunt Viv to me. Growing up and becoming an adult in L.A. I knew and worked with more women like Janet’s character (bold) than the Daphne Maxwell Reid character.

    • equality says:

      Not just Will. The producers owe her also. They didn’t have to listen to a kid and replace her.

      • Soupie says:

        Agreed. And nowadays Janet would have been more able and likely to report the domestic abuse that she was experiencing and the knowledge of her pregnancy. Times have changed and improved a little bit. (A little bit.)

        As an experiencer of domestic violence myself and at the actual time that this went on I knew that there was more to the story than what Will was saying at the time. He does seem to be trying to redeem himself in different ways at this point in his life and I guess that’s a good thing. I really don’t know why he’s not getting meaty roles these days. He’s a good actor.

      • Seraphina says:

        Agreed, I too blame the producers. They were the adults in the situation.

    • Noki says:

      She was in pretty much every episode foe three seasons, so i hope she gets residuals for that or is that something only if negotiated to receive?

    • sa says:

      “I love Will as an actor and I absolutely adored Fresh Prince but I feel there should be some sort of financial restitution.”

      I was thinking the same thing. I don’t know how they can do it in a non-condescending way, but they definitely owe her. Maybe Will can make sure she gets a significant role in his next movie, and pay her above her current rate.

  9. Chloe says:

    I meannnnnn… she didn’t tell him what was going on and just started not talking to anyone, not working at the same “caliber”, etc. Your boss is going to notice a change and if you don’t give them some sort of indication of what’s going on, how would they know? The situation sucks, but I don’t think he’s a monster or anything.

    • detritus says:

      Good and effective bosses ask.

      • molly says:

        True, but Will wasn’t her boss. He was the 22 year old star of the show with a great deal of influence, but he’s not her “boss” in any way.

      • Seraphina says:

        @Molly, he may not have been her boss, but the bosses listened to Will. That was the biggest mistake. Will was the catalyst and the producers were the henchmen. They needed Will to make the show happen so I am sure he had some influence.

      • lucy2 says:

        And Will wasn’t the only one on the set. None of the other cast, the director(s), producers, no one said to her “Are you OK? I’m here if you need to talk.”

    • PPP says:

      Where does it say she did sub-par work? And also, getting quiet at work while Real Life things are going on should not be viewed as unprofessional! It’s not anger, it’s not acting out. It’s just the result of keeping your emotions out of the work place. You’re under no professional obligation to be flipping chipper. JFC, haven’t we learned anything during the Pandemic? I mean I guess not, since I got Covid and my work is treating me like I’ve inconvenienced them even though work is how I got Covid in the first place. The work mentality in America is so gross.

      • Regina Falangie says:

        I’m sorry PPP. You deserve better treatment from your employers and coworkers!! I hope you feel better soon!!

    • Soupie says:

      @Chloe
      In the time frame that we are referring to here, if you were going through a pregnancy in a high profile career that could mean death or serious harm to your career. Also, until recently for too any women domestic abuse was a dirty little secret that you had to keep because you were a loser if you allowed to happen, you were a loser if you stayed, you were a loser if it happened to you in the 1st place, and you had trouble being believed on top of all that. There were no cell phones and no social media at that time – and far fewer resources for women.

      So Janet had a double whammy. I think Chloe, that perhaps you don’t realize how things were 30 years ago and how much things have changed for the better. There is still a lot of need for growth. Things have definitely changed for the better since the time that Janet was experiencing her troubles at the show and in her personal life.

      TLDR: Expecting a woman in Janet’s position to speak up *during that time frame* is unrealistic.

    • Julie says:

      Woof, OP. Please blame the victim some more why don’t you? Just because she doesn’t tell her coworker about her DOMESTIC ABUSE doesn’t give the coworker the right to actively end their career. It is not the obligation the victim to tell everyone in their life about their situation; sometimes it’s not even safe for them to do so.

      I shudder at the thought of anyone you care about being a victim of domestic violence and coming to you, especially if that’s your reaction after reading this piece.

    • M.A.F. says:

      Just because she wasn’t talking to anyone doesn’t mean she wasn’t showing up to work prepared.

  10. manda says:

    I really don’t know much about Will Smith except for things I have heard, I don’t really follow him or whatever, and so I had only ever heard that SHE was crazy. I think it was really big of him to apologize for it. I also hope that she is in a better place financially and has people that love her! Gosh that story was heartbreaking. I had no idea!

    • H says:

      I partied with Will a few times when he was on tour with RUN DMC (friend was dating, later married, someone in the group). This was before he was on Fresh Prince. He was so down to earth and approachable. I got invited to his birthday party that year, but had to decline because of college. (My only claim to fame).

      In the past few years, I’ve been sad that he seemingly has been slipping away from his Philly roots (i.e. Scientology, affairs) but this reunion and healing the rift between Janet and him seems like a move in the right direction. Janet was WRONGED. She’s the only Aunt Viv for me. I will have to get HBO Max now to watch this and WW 1984.

  11. Lexilla says:

    I’m sure she got paid for this reunion, so perhaps that’s one small way to get her some compensation after all that’s happened.

  12. Eenie Googles says:

    Until just now I didn’t realize how much I cared about the original Aunt Viv, but this story made me really happy lol

  13. Seraphina says:

    I hear both of you and it’s just sad when things like this happen. Hell yeah she was raging angry, she lost everything and had a new baby – raging hormones and all.
    But giving a young star, who is without life experience, was a huge mistake. I don’t blame Will, he didn’t know any better but where are the others who were older, mature and more experienced????? They too share some of the blame.

    BTW, I the original Aunt Viv was my favorite. She felt real, like my mom. Daphne felt like a cookie cutter African American version of June Cleaver.

    • MsIam says:

      I don’t think the writers gave Daphne much to do so it’s not her fault. Plus when the show started Will was a student in the school that Aunt Viv worked at so her character had a lot of screen time with Will since he was the star. When Daphne was hired Wills character was older and the plots didn’t need to be in that setting. There was no real reason for them to interact as much anymore other than Will and the other kids coming and going.

  14. kerwood says:

    I’m proud of Will Smith for being able to admit his wrong doing and try and make amends. Of course, it’s all for the cameras but still. They could have pretended like Original Aunt Viv never existed, like they did for decades.

    I was always disappointed in Janet because of how she constantly went after Will. She was injured party but she never talked about the stuff that was going on behind the cameras. She just attacked Smith. He was the star and the one every one knew but there is no doubt in my mind that if the producers had wanted Janet Hubert to stay, she would have stayed. Smith was at the beginning of his career. He didn’t have the kind of clout he has today. Smith became everybody’s scapegoat and I’ve always thought it was unfair to him.

    I’m glad they acknowledged James Avery. The man was an incredible actor.

  15. Jezebel's Lacefront says:

    Will should give a check for a million. He’s got it and it’s the right thing to do. I mean, he ruined her career. Anyway, she’s the only Aunt Viv I acknowledged. She was fierce, cool, and her voice resonated. The other one was meek and more of a background character, which carried a bad vibe.

  16. Watson says:

    Original aunt viv will always be my favourite. Remember the time she out danced all the young bitches in that dance class??? LOLOLOLOL THE BEST!!!

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-RB7zRhENCw

  17. Ames says:

    I think much of Hubert’s bad reputation was sown by Hubert herself. Her expletive-laden attacks over the years (she even went in on Smith’s wife, completely unprovoked) didn’t do her any favors.

    I get that she was hurting, and dealing with things. But it’s worth noting that Smith wasn’t the only cast/crew member she clashed with. Yeah, he was the title character and his star was definitely rising fast, but Hubert set fire to some of those bridges herself.

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