Daily Recco, July 22: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, timeless and woke
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is remarkable because it took on topics that were typically 'Black problems' and talked about them in a non-aggressive and non-confrontational way, back in the 1990s.
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Most television shows do not age well. What was acceptable behaviour when a show was being made might not be acceptable just a few years later. Even a show as rarefied as Friends suffered from this. But one show that came out even before Friends stands comfortably today and continues to rerun on channels across the world. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air starring Will Smith is an essential watch.
The show was key to launching the entertainment phenomenon that Will Smith became. He was just 22 at the time and starred as a fictionalised version of himself. Smith was reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy when the show began, after moderate success as a rapper.
The show is a classic sitcom and follows the life of Smith, of West Philadelphia born and raised, who has been sent to complete high school while living with his aunt and uncle in the ritzy California neighbourhood of Bel-Air.
Smith's transplantation from a rough and poor neighbourhood on the US East Coast to an extremely rich neighbourhood on the West Coast helps create a show rich with the possibility of storytelling by comparison. To this effect, Smith's behaviour at times puts him at odds with his rich relatives.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996) is a remarkable show because it took on topics that were typically 'Black problems' and talked about them in a non-aggressive and non-confrontational way. Prime among these is racism. The show is truly a work of art whenever it brings racial issues into its storyline. It is truly a slap in the face for anyone who believes the ongoing racial tensions in the US do not exist on the ground and are merely a conspiracy to destabilise their society.
Even casual jokes about not being able to drive a Mercedes without being stopped because the character was black are dropped casually, and others about black characters talking to each other about how to behave when stopped by the police are deeply reflective of horrific incidents we have witnessed in recent times.
The show also boldly takes on another kind of racism that is not often talked about — black on black. The episode puts one of the main characters in a scenario where he is accused of 'not being black enough.' That episode ends on a note of poetic delicacy when the father realises that his children may have to pay a price for his success.
While class and race figure prominently throughout the show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is essentially a show about family. Its six seasons are mostly a light watch on Netflix and could be the throwback that could show you a thing or two about where the phenom on Will Smith began.