My Pen Is Mighty
Why Peacock’s Re-Imagined ‘Hilary Banks’ Is Winning on ‘Bel-Air’
Coco Jones’ rendition goes beyond “Black Valley Girl” persona, exploring social justice issues while whipping up delicious feasts.
Like most people, I was quite hesitant when I first heard that Will Smith was rebooting the early 1990s classic sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
The show spoke to a generation of Black teens and young adults, myself included, who needed an escape from the harsh realities of growing up in a world that wasn’t enthusiastic about us embracing our authentic selves. At the time, we needed that laugh track.
With “Bel-Air,” the re-imagined version starring Jabari Banks as Will Smith, there are very few laughs — and no laugh track. It’s serious business as to how he escaped the rough streets of West Philadelphia to live with his wealthy relatives in a mansion in the gated community of Bel-Air.
Upon arrival, he’s warmly welcomed by his cousin Hilary Banks (Coco Jones), the eldest child of Aunt Viv (Cassandra Freeman) and Uncle Phil (Adrian Holmes). I’m obsessed with her storyline. There’s definitely something different about this version of Hilary, who proves immediately that she has strong connections to the Black community.
No offense to Karyn Parsons’ version of Hilary Banks in the original series— because she effortlessly portrayed the quintessential “Black Valley Girl” — but Jones’ take is much more nuanced and complicated. And if we want to get real, by making her a dark-skinned young woman, you just know her life struggles are going to be intensely different from the original, fairer-complexioned Hilary.
The show’s writers also gave this Hilary Banks marketable skills beyond looking fabulous and shopping. She is a burgeoning culinarian, one, like so many others, who has taken her cooking skills to social media. She’s made herself famous by serving up Black culture.
Hilary is first shown in her element in the pilot episode (“Dreams and Nightmares”) when she’s catering her dad’s fundraiser for his run for Los Angeles district attorney. She showcases original gourmet pastries as 3,000 followers…