Fresh Prince: How Black Culture was Presented in American Living Rooms

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air centers around Will Smith, who is sent to live with his aunt in Bel-Air, California because of his struggle to thrive in his working-class background in Philadelphia. Now while the show is known for Will’s escapades, chasing women and finding himself in hilarious situations like any other sit-com. It’s secret to success was the fact that they had a mainly black cast and it was not about how the “regular” black family in America was living. Fresh Prince was revolutionary in showing off black culture to the mainstream world very subtly. Not only did the show bring light to black culture as a non-threatening concept and a bold new visual idea, but they also had a platform to allow viewers to be more aware of the struggle the African American community is subject to based on race.

The Fresh Prince was, in capital letters, a black show and it showed from the infamous opening credits. Will Smith’s character was seen playing basketball with his homies in the mean streets of Philadelphia eventually moving to the boujee surroundings of Bel-Air, bringing with him a cocky and sassy attitude, but also a street style that was new for TV. Smith’s look throughout the show is centered around an Afrocentric style that was popularized in the late 80s by the likes of Queen Latifah, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Spike Lee. Stylistically, Will Smith was rocking some brightly patterned prints, baggy t-shirts, stone-washed denim, and colourful or oddly shaped hats. Combining brands such as Nike with patterned trousers or paisley blazers these pattern combinations and styles were ones that we never saw in the world of mainstream television. To this day you can see the influence of the Fresh Prince in menswear from brands like Pyer Moss, Coach, and even icons like Tyler the Creator. Will Smith as the Fresh Prince left his imprint on the fashion world.

The Fresh Prince was a guide on everything from racial profiling and police brutality, to interracial dating and racially-biased hiring policies. For some, it may have been their first-time watching a black family on television. For others, this was their first time seeing racial issues depicted on screen and for the many young black viewers of the show, this may have been their first time being aware of these problems. Twenty years may have passed since Fresh Prince ended, but there are still few shows that can rival it for talking on racial issues in such an accessible way. Isn’t it crazy that they had to, “whitewash”, a black family to make the discussion of racial issues more digestible for America?


Written by: Hector Nilo

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