The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

15 Oct


The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was an African American sit-com that was on for six seasons from 1990 to 1996. This popular sit-com was based off of a Californian family taking in a relative. At the beginning of this series is the only time that I believe a stereotype was used towards African Americans. Will Smith was described as a “street-smart” kid who had gotten into trouble back in Philadelphia. I think that this is part of the stereotype because it is describing Will as a younger African American who had trouble with crime just as most stereotypical TV shows and movies show African Americans. So Will is sent off to live with his relatives. However, I think that this is when the stereotypes start to disappear. Surprisingly his relatives, who are also African American, are living in a mansion. They have this big house with a butler and are portrayed as a very well off family. According to our notes African Americans are usually portrayed in roles that are more middle class. I find this sit-com interesting because the entire Banks family is all properly dressed, have a good education, and just all around seem very proper with good manners. Then we have Will enter the scene who more accurately portrays African American stereotypes. He wears unprofessional clothes such as baggy pants and backwards baseball caps. The audience is taken through the series through the view of Will and the process of him growing up along the way. The Banks family throughout the series tries to make him a more proper man.

When looking at the readings, I think that the article by Monk and Turner, Portrayal of Racial Minorities, were right on when saying that African Americans representation on TV behaviors are portrayed as negative characteristics. I think that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air holds this stereotype up just through the character of Will. He starts off as kind of a punk kid who got in trouble with fights and crime in Philadelphia and is sent off to be straightened up. When he went to California his relatives pretty much disapproved of his behaviors and the way that he acted. There were not the typical stereotyped African Americans in TV and they did not really connect with his way of life. Another thing that stuck out in the reading was that African Americans had more relaxed conversations which also showed through Will. He showed up to California and was so laid back and talked to everyone like they were his best friends. However, I think that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air writers had to write Will’s character that way on purpose. I think the real idea of the sit-com was to show that African Americans can beat the stereotypes and can have jobs that provide them with a luxurious life style.

I think that since this is an entire African American cast that the writers tried to go against stereotypes. Race is never mentioned between the characters. I think that this could be because being an African American cast they are trying to portray their luxurious lifestyle as something that is normal. By the end of the series will is still his funky self, but he has also learned life lessons and has been taught manners, goes to a nice school, and has a well put together family surrounding him. Personally I think that this sit-com challenges the norms and some of what our readings say by having the Banks family as an upper class family that helps their relative grow up to be a self-respected man.

Finally, people can relate to the character of Will because he is a fun spirited kid when he goes off to live with his relatives. He is someone that everyone would want as a friend. He draws the viewers in. I think that if this were a white family sit-com it would not be nearly as successful as it was. It drew people in because it challenged the norms and it challenged stereotypes of African Americans.


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