VMEN: Jabari Banks
Hollywood’s freshest prince proves he’s just hitting his stride
Jabari Banks was shaped by the camaraderie of West Philadelphia, where he was born and raised. It’s a part of him no matter where he goes—although before this past year, he had no idea how far he’d really get to soar. Just like Will Smith’s character in the original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Banks experienced the real-life trials and tribulations of departing familiarity and diving into a new world.
It was an average day when Banks, as he aptly put it, had his “life ﬂipped, turned upside down.” He is just a normal kid from Philly—he loves a good cheesesteak; “Dalessandro’s or Ishkabibble’s are the spots,” he shares. He has always fearlessly expressed his charismatic personality, taking up both athletic and artistic pursuits as a kid—“It was very much a Troy Bolton, High School Musical moment,” he says. As an alumnus of Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, creativity fuels Banks and he was hungry to share that passion with the masses.
The creative was surﬁ ng on friends’ couches while auditioning for roles when he spontaneously received a call that would change his life forever. “Two days later, I was out in L.A. for the first time,” Banks explains. “My life has mirrored Will’s character’s experiences in the original Fresh Prince, so it’s been great to be able to pull from that and bring myself to the role. I feel there’s no other way to really do this.”
After speaking to the animated actor, it really comes as no surprise that he landed the lead role for Bel-Air. Banks shares many qualities with Smith’s character: he is headstrong, fashionable in his own “I’m doing me” way, and his energy is infectious. But he also brings a refreshing take to the character, modernizing Smith in subtle yet necessary ways. “It’s the same heart as the original, but we’re breathing new life into [the characters] and showing different, unseen sides of them,” he states.
As a member of Gen Z, Banks grew up with sitcoms like Fresh Prince, Martin, and morning television cartoons, but he also had the unique position, like many other ‘90s kids, of concurrently experiencing the digital age. He has seen the industry evolve for the better over time, but also acknowledges that there’s still work to be done—and he’d like to be a part of that firsthand. On what’s next for Banks, the sky truly is the limit. “I really want to go super sci-ﬁ ,” he reveals. “I remember the ﬁrst time I saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I got really emotional because that was the ﬁrst time I saw a Black boy ﬂ y. I hope to do something like that for others.”
Bel-Air Season 2 is now available to stream via Peacock.