2020 Grad Lands Leading Role in ‘Fresh Prince’ Reboot
August 31, 2021
In a video released Aug. 31, actor Will Smith surprised recent UArts alum Jabari Banks BFA '20 (Musical Theater) with a life-altering piece of news: Banks would be stepping into Smith's shoes to reprise his iconic role in a dramatic reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The news broke on the YouTube channel for NBC's streaming service, Peacock, where the new series will air, and in trade publications Variety and Deadline.
"From the deepest parts of my heart, I want to say congratulations to you," Smith told Banks in the video. "You have the role of Will on Bel-Air."
Banks' background makes him the perfect fit to play Will, his first TV role. He lives in West Philadelphia, the birthplace of his celebrated character, and is an accomplished rapper, singer, songwriter and basketball player. In high school, Banks said, he encouraged his friends to dress up as cast members from the original show.
"I'm so ready," Banks said during the announcement. "I'm ready to bite down."
The new series, Bel-Air, received a two-season order in September 2020, according to Deadline. It's based on a viral concept trailer created by Morgan Cooper, who has been tapped to write, direct and executive produce the series. Chris Collins of The Man in the High Castle and The Wire fame will be Bel-Air's co-writer. The show is a product of Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith's Westbrook Studios and Universal Television. Quincy Jones and the original series' creators, Andy and Susan Borowitz, will also serve as executive producers.
When it debuted in 2019, Cooper's trailer was a stark departure from the original series' comedic tone, hinting at the serious trouble that forced main character Will to relocate to his aunt and uncle's mansion in Bel-Air. It has since racked up nearly 7 million views on YouTube.
Announced as a "dramatic analogue" [sic] to the original sitcom, Bel-Air will fully flesh out Cooper's concept, tracing Will's complex journey to the ritzy, gated California community while exploring the conflicts and emotions surrounding it. The new series' hour-long format promises to deliver a bit more gravitas while maintaining the trademark swagger of the original 148 episodes.
Bel-Air will film in both Philadelphia and California. A release date has not yet been announced, but it is expected to debut in 2022.