Mo’Kelly empathizes, sympathizes and for the most part understands from whence Janet Hubert’s anger emanates. She needs to have “her say.” I get that, I understand it completely. She needs to have her say and doing so is often cathartic in nature, bringing peace to one’s spirit.
If Mo’Kelly wishes Hubert anything, it’s peace.
Janet Hubert, best known and unfortunately last known for the role of “Aunt Viv” in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air is now having her say in the form the tell-all book, Perfection is Not a Sitcom Mom. Mo’Kelly hasn’t read the book but by all accounts it is a sincere attempt at weaving together a narrative of “the show” behind the show. A show which served as a springboard for a future international superstar.
It’s like being the jilted lover having to watch that “someone” parade their new love in front of you again and again and again given Smith’s ever-increasing celebrity. Actually, Hubert is the “jilted mother” if you will, with her character having been abruptly re-cast under a cloud of controversy. Hubert has argued that Smith wielded undue influence and forced her out.
I understand the book strategy and timing…sort of. Nobody cares about this story if Smith doesn’t ultimately become a huge star…a HUGE star. Not only that, if Smith now addresses the book publicly, cha-ching for Hubert. If he doesn’t, Hubert’s version of the truth runs unopposed in the media.
Either way, she “wins“…to a certain extent.
The timing and strategy aren’t hard to figure out, though if Smith were coming out with a summer blockbuster right about now, it might have been better for Hubert. Coming out with this book in the one summer Smith doesn’t have a movie is a bit curious.
Reading the story of Janet Hubert invariably reminded Mo’Kelly of the late famed actress Esther Rolle of Good Times fame. Although Good Times was a spin-off of Maude, with Rolle as the central character segueing from Bea Arthur’s maid quarters to the Cabrini-Green projects of Chicago; an unknown and untrained comedian named Jimmie Walker eventually became its “star.” The show’s scripts began to heavily favor and feature the buffoonery/chicanery of “J.J.” the high school dropout who could never hold a job.
Depending on whom you ask, the truth was somewhere between Rolle wanting a
better representation of Black people and outright jealousy of Jimmie Walker. Remember, it was supposed to be her show, right? As opposed to Janet Hubert, who starred on a show specifically constructed as a vehicle for Will Smith…you know, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Hubert often argues that Smith wasn’t supposed to be the show’s bread and butter, but let’s be clear…the show was named after “The Fresh Prince,” Will Smith and the storyline clearly was about “The Fresh Prince.”
It was not named after his ensemble cast member aunt.
All of the Julliard training in the world does not change the fact that she was a member of the supporting cast. Yes, Hubert was an accomplished actress and like Jimmie Walker, Will Smith had minimal training at best…but the star was always to be Will Smith.
Smith rapped the theme song, starred in the opening credits and yes, had the show named after him. The only person who seems unclear, even in 2009 is Hubert.
The reason I mentioned Esther Rolle is simple. Although Rolle had arguably a greater reason to feel misused, misled and under-appreciated…she never allowed her exit from Good Times to be her final curtain call. She never allowed Norman Lear have the final say on her career and Lear had 1,000 times more television clout than anybody named Will Smith, or Quincy Jones even today.
Without Norman Lear, there is nothing to watch on TVLand or Nick at Night. Nevertheless, Rolle handled her private displeasure with Lear and the other writers of Good Times with public grace. Rolle’s legacy and dignity were still firmly intact, right up until her passing in 1998.
I fear…no, I know…the same will not be said about Hubert.
If we are to look at the fullness of the disrespect of Black women on TV, the stories of, Diahann Carroll, Della Reese and Nancy Wilson should be told before we shed a tear on behalf of Hubert. How Carroll had to wait until 1989 for a bit part on A Different World to win her first Emmy, Mo’Kelly will never understand. How Della Reese still is largely overlooked although she was the first African-American host (female or otherwise) of The Tonight Show…filling in for Johnny Carson, Mo’Kelly will never understand. Nancy Wilson, who toiled for years making guest appearances on other people’s programs, finally landed her own series, The Nancy Wilson Show. She won an Emmy in the two years on the air and was canceled for an all-White sketch comedy show of unknown and unproven comedic actors…Saturday Night Live.
Bitter? Outraged? Janet Hubert needs to get in line behind a bunch of legendary Black women and wait her turn.
Will Smith will not be diminished by Janet Hubert’s book, irrespective of how much truth might be found within its pages. Hubert’s career will not be resurrected and I think it’s safe to say that Perfection is Not a Sitcom Mom will not end up as a pick for Oprah’s book club.
Oprah loves her some Will.
In all seriousness, Mo’Kelly sympathizes with Janet Hubert. She is a quality actress and there’s likely more truth than fiction in her book. Unfortunately the truth that Hubert seems to leave out is that Hollywood has been historically unfair and unkind to women of color, not just her. To play the role of “victim” is not one in which her undeniable talent is best suited. She omits the truth that it has been far more harsh on her predecessors, yet they all reacted with style, grace and class. The historically unfair and “color struck” nature of Hollywood didn’t begin or end with her. If anyone’s legacy has been diminished in this endeavor it is Hubert’s.
I just hope that afterwards, Hubert will have found at the minimum, peace and the blow to her legacy will have been worth it.