Entertainment Studios revisits Will Smith’s success in ‘Fresh Prince of Hollywood’ doc

The original documentary revisits how the recent Oscar winner became movie industry royalty.

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It’s a story that many know by heart. It begins with “West Philadelphia born and raised.” Now, in an original Entertainment Studios documentary Will Smith: The Fresh Prince of Hollywood, the life of Academy Award winner Will Smith is explored, showing how the ‘Fresh Prince’ became movie industry royalty.

It is available now on theGrio app, which is free via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV.

Featuring commentary from Dr. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, an acclaimed culture writer, Will Smith: The Fresh Prince of Hollywood follows Smith’s initial success as a Grammy-winning rapper to the hit television show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Bickerdike explains that a conversation with Fresh Prince co-star Alfonso Ribiero was a pivotal moment in Smith’s career.

“He said to Will, ‘You should name your character Will Smith because people are going to shout it out to you when they see you in the street,’” she shares. “And, of course, Alfonso already had that experience from being a child actor and growing up in front of the camera.”

She notes that the decision “cemented the Will Smith brand at a fairly early time in his acting career.”

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air debuted on NBC on Sept. 10, 1990, running for six seasons and 148 episodes. It recently relaunched as a drama, Bel-Air, airing on Peacock TV, NBC’s streaming platform.

Will Smith: The Fresh Prince of Hollywood also delves into how one memorable TV moment opened the door to an incomparable film career.

In the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse,” which first aired on May 9, 1994, Smith freestyled an emotional monologue about his character’s deadbeat dad that struck a chord with viewers.

As Bickerdike explains it, the episode came soon after Smith’s movie debut, Six Degrees of Separation, but before his first big hit, Bad Boys.

Dr. Bickerdike also talks about how, upon the release of Independence Day in 1996 — at the time, the second-highest-grossing film ever — that Fourth of July weekend became known as “Big Willie Weekend,” solidifying his brand as a box office draw.

“Everybody likes Will Smith,” she says. “You want to see him succeed. I think that’s another thing that everybody was buying into when they went to see his movies on ‘Big Willie’ Weekend.’”

The Fresh Prince of Hollywood also explored Smith’s personal life. He married Sheree Zampino in 1992 and had a son together, Will, Jr., known as Trey. The couple divorced in 1995. Smith married actress Jada Pinkett in 1997.

Even then, the couple was very public about their determination to stay married for life. “There are no dealbreakers,” Smith is quoted as saying. “Nothing she could do ever that would break our relationship.”

The documentary showed how Smith combined his skills as an actor and rapper, combining a song release with a movie, which would increase the visibility of the film. But his 1998 hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” done between films, won a Grammy and became a cultural catchphrase.

“You’re always going to have detractors,” Smith said at a press conference for the 1999 Grammy awards. “But I just feel like there’s a lot more people that are giving me positive energy, and I don’t respond to negative energy. I just allow it to keep passing me by.” He adds with a laugh, “You fight fire with water.”

"Bad Boys For Life" Madrid Photocall
Will Smith attends ‘Bad Boys For Life’ photocall at the Villamagna Hotel on Jan. 8, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

From appearing in films with his youngest son, Jaden, to supporting the acting and music career of his daughter, Willow, Smith’s family became a central focus. The doc notes that the actor took a year off after the failure of After Earth, Smith’s second film with Jaden after his Oscar-nominated turn in The Pursuit of Happyness.

When he returned, Smith chose different kinds of roles and became active on social media, quickly amassing millions of followers on Instagram and YouTube.

“Will is someone who is a purveyor of technology,” Dr. Bickerdike says of the star’s 2017 entrance into social media.“It’s him always underscoring and continuing to let people know he is the most relatable person,” she says. “He’s just like you, even though he is the most bankable film star — probably in the world.”

Though Smith has spent most of his life in the public eye, this documentary reveals a few lesser-known facts about his journey from West Philly rapper to self-made movie superstar. Despite his recent actions at the Academy Awards, it shows how Smith earned his place in the entertainment stratosphere.

Want more Will? Watch “Will Smith: The Prince of Hollywood.” Streaming on theGrio now. Where Black America comes for Free TV.

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