Arts & Culture

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Sitcom Analysis; A break into the black racial stereotypes of the 1990s

Photo courtesy of Jessica Spoto

As the cold weather approaches you may find yourself cooped up in your dorm room needing to pass the time. The 1990s sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel Air is a perfect show to provoke deeper thinking and be entertained at the same time. This sitcom which aired September 10th 1990, starts off with its iconic theme song The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air Theme Song (Full). You can see the main character, Will, a black man in his early 20s spinning around on a golden throne with graffiti on a wall in the background. The graffiti behind him can be alluding to anti-cop related graffiti such as with the pig’s head on the platter. Leading into the next take you see Will spray painting graffiti on a wall when a cop approaches him. Before the cop comes onto the screen , something is sprayed into Will’s face. Will scrunches his eyes seemingly blinded by this substance being sprayed. He immediately turns around and continues to spray paint the wall, as this happens a black police officer appears in the scene. The police officer shakes his head side to side in a disapproving fashion into the camera. He then proceeds to come from behind Will and hit Will multiple times with a wooden baton. Startled by the police officer, he quickly plays off that he has no idea what he was doing while pretending to spray the paint can underneath his arms like a deodorant. While this is going on, a police officer continues to shake his baton back and forth rapidly towards Will.

The next scene cuts to Will playing basketball with his friends outside of a school. His friends are tall skinny black men. Their age seems to be the same as Will, early 20s at most. As the scene zooms in onto the basketball missing the net, bouncing off the rim and hitting a buff black man in the head. This black man seems to be in his late 20s, early 30s. He is in a group of four other black men wearing big gold chains, backwards hats and casual clothing. The whole group is surrounded by a boom box.  As the ball hits the man in the head, he as well as the whole group immediately stand up , arms crossed, and in a very defensive manner surround and start to push him around. 

The next scene cuts to a character portraying Will’s mother. Will’s mom is seen throwing his clothes around and packing a suitcase for him. She is packing to send Will off to live with his Uncle and Auntie in Belair. She is sending him away to his relatives because they are well off and Will , will be away from the “couple of guys who were up to no good” that were “starting trouble in my [Will’s] neighborhood.” This scene then cuts into Will flying first class , a stewardess pouring him orange juice into a champagne glass, and him clinking his glass together with the woman sitting next to him. To note, all of the people thus shown in all scenes are black.

I pose this question to all you readers – have racial stereotypes of Black Americans changed since the 1990s, or do we still face racial injustice today in 2022? Please email your responses to jessicaaspoto@smccm.edu to be featured in Jessica Spoto’s next article continuing the discussion on race.

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