The most-watched 1990s television show in Black family homes was NBC’s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Fresh Prince starred rapper-turned-actor Will Smith — a homegrown talent from West Philadelphia with a fictional televised story based loosely on his life.
The family series was broadcast for six seasons ending in 1996. During its third season, the Banks family, known for taking in the trouble-maker main character Will, was televised in over 20 million households and held the second highest TV ratings of 1992 to 1993. The famed success of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air slingshotted Will Smith into a multi-decade career of acting, producing, and music-making.
Today the Los Angeles family’s storylines and deep moments of togetherness have now returned in a fresh revival series called Bel-Air on NBC’s streaming platform Peacock.
Bel-Air, a more serious take on Fresh Prince, is Peacock’s most-streamed original series to date and has just been renewed for a third season. Like the original, Will, a snapback-on-the-side wearing teenager from West Philadelphia with major growing pains, is dropped off in the boujee, gated neighborhoods of Bel-Air to live with his extended relatives.
In Peacock’s reboot, they don’t try to steep heavily into nostalgia, instead giving the series a modern revamp that makes its characters more relevant to Gen Z, exemplifying Black excellence at its core. R&B singer Coco Jones plays the swanky Hilary Banks and Will’s goofy cousin Carlton Banks is reenacted by Olly Sholoton. Jazlyn Martin, a rising Afro-Latina actress (This Is Us, The High Note) plays a new interpretation of one of Will’s childhood friends and love interests, Jackie Ames, the role previously played by Tyra Banks.
Jazlyn Martin names the tucked away city of Sunland, just outside of Los Angeles, as her first home. Known colloquially as “The Valley,” the local region is oftentimes hailed as a glitzy dreamscape painted by early Hollywood films. Captivated at a young age by the film industry, she gradually gained her acting chops and began booking jobs that would land her in national commercials, music videos and guest-starring roles. The dancer, musician and actor waited for the phone call she received in the spring of 2022 her whole life.
She recalled the excitement she felt when she received the call, “I can’t believe I get to make my own version of this iconic show that my parents [used to] watch… I get to act in scenes that have gritty, deep messages that the [original] comedy may have not touched on by bringing Jackie Ames to life again.”
With the focus of the new series less on quick laughs, Bel-Air confronts difficult topics surrounding mental health, social media exposure, and more. The suspenseful nature of the show effectively relates the Banks family to younger audiences while acting as a tribute to the 90’s comedy for nostalgia tv watchers.
In Bel-Air, Jackie Ames is a self-made South Central LA-native who is obviously sparking Will’s interest. Their connection develops into a young romance after Ames schools Will on the basketball court. Her character is Afro-Latina in the reboot, more accurately depicting South Central’s largely Black and Latino population. Jazlyn addresses how she “never really knew what being Afro-Latina was” as a kid, but she was aware of her family’s blended culture. “All the Latinas that I ever did see on screen were white-passing, and a lot of Afro-Latino actors were always casted solely as Black characters that didn’t express their Latin heritage.” Now, she is overjoyed that her first television role is an iteration of her true self and the cultural impact she wants to have by building visibility.
“Being from South Central dictates what Jackie’s environment is and what she has grown accustomed to,” Jazlyn Martin tells LATINA. “Her city is beautifully populated with Black and Mexican communities.” Martin adds that the reason Will and Jackie fall for each other is because she is his version of home away from Philadelphia. “Jackie is very independent and headstrong. She has been through a lot and is fully aware of what she doesn’t like in a person and what she does, which unfolds in the show.”
“Bel-Air is a very important Black show to this generation, and this is my first big role so I feel like I am stepping into new waters,” Martin confesses. “Jackie’s perspective in her life is so different from mine. She is teaching me that all humans are trying to just survive and it just looks different on everybody. Playing pretend through Jackie Ames, someone who didn’t receive a lot of privilege, is expanding my empathy and grace towards humanity.” Jazlyn Martin’s effervescent yet strong performance in Bel-Air exhibits the heart she wears for her culture, community, and Will on her sleeves.
Malik Peay is a Los Angeles-based entertainment and culture writer who has written for Vanity Fair, Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, LA Times, Essence, Insider, and more.