Young director and cinematographer Morgan Cooper has brilliantly managed to take the art of fan-made storytelling and create a film based on a beloved throwback television show. The hit ‘90s show “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” has been canceled for over 20 years, but Cooper brought its streetwise and goofy protagonist back to life when he released the trailer “Bel-Air” on March 10.
“Bel-Air” reveals a more dramatic version of the 1990’s comedy sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” In the trailer, Cooper’s film emphasizes the darker side of Will Smith’s character as he works to adjust from the tough streets of West Philadelphia to the upscale life of Bel-Air, Los Angeles.
The story unfolds as Will’s mother sends him to live with his well-off uncle, aunt and their three children after being arrested for fighting and gun possession. One scene that is worth highlighting is when Will explains to character Aunt Viv (Kira Ashby) that his “life ain’t a sitcom.” The statement proves that “Bel-Air” is less lighthearted than the televised version, while also symbolizing ever-present issues among people of color, such as gang violence and unequal opportunity.
Cooper makes the trailer even more relevant to modern audiences by setting the film in the millennial wave of 2019, making it relatable to longtime fans as well as newly introduced viewers. While using the creative and playful tones of the fan-fiction genre, Cooper dives into the deeper layers of Will’s transition from rags to riches.
The serious tone of the plot is conveyed through Will’s confrontation with his cousin Carlton, played by Jelani Talib. In the original series, part of what made the show so funny was Carlton and Will’s constant jokes about each other’s vernacular and style. Cooper decides to display their differences through a very intense argument in which Carlton claims that Will doesn’t “belong here,” referring to the conflict with his family’s wealthy lifestyle. Will responds with anger, basically stating that the Banks’ bourgeoisie lifestyle is fake and that Carlton is living a privileged life that he did not earn.
Throughout the trailer, viewers can see how Cooper presents the dramatic side of the characters’ relationships while still keeping with the fun-loving, original narrative. Cooper also continues to succeed in applying the fan-loved relationships that moved the plot of the actual show. For instance, Will’s love interest, Lisa (Jada Paige), in the film is a relationship that was an important element of the “Fresh Prince” narrative. Additionally, Will’s hilarious and close friend Jazz (Rufus Burns), gives the new production a comedic relief so that the revision doesn’t shy too far away from the show’s laughable moments.
One opinion about “Bel-Air” in particular, comes from the Fresh Prince himself. In a recent interview, famous actor Will Smith spoke with Cooper and made it clear that he believes “Bel-Air” is “an idea that is brilliant.”
While Cooper has not revealed any intentions on moving forward with the trailer, the four-minute film has already received great feedback on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Although Cooper’s scenes in the trailer were made for entertainment purposes, “Bel-Air” reveals an underlying argument that sadly, no progress has occurred between 1990 and 2019 in terms of gun violence, gang affiliation and police brutality. The film is an artistic demand for societal change. Cooper’s vision will not only bring awareness to America’s social issues but motivate film writers to think critically about what their stories should represent.
The fact that Cooper is able to build from a 23-year-old storyline and apply it to the realities of the new generation proves that the troubles of young black men in the ‘90s are no different than the problems black millennials face today. It was easy for Cooper to base the plot in 2019 because, although it has been over two decades since the show’s cancellation, the issues exposed in the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” remain relevant.
The issue of gun violence in the U.S. has not disappeared nor changed. In fact, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, nearly 400 million guns are circulating in the U.S. “Indeed,” according to The Philadelphia Citizen, “since 2014 (when there were 246 murders), we’ve seen a nearly 43 percent jump in homicides over the past several years—and an average 10 percent killing increase annually, save the hardly noticeable 1 percent dip in 2016.”
Cooper also proceeds to shed light on arguments regarding black men and the criminal justice system. At the beginning of the trailer, actor Jonathan Morrison is seen playing the role of a “Philly Basketball Player” while wearing a black T-shirt with white letters that reads “Free Meek.” In another scene, Jerry Madison is sporting a gray hoodie with the question “What Would Meek Do?” The words displayed on the characters’ wardrobe refers to the 31-year-old rapper Meek Mill, who recently became an activist for criminal justice reform after being sentenced to two to four years in prison after violating a 10-year probation that he began to serve at the age of 19.
Mill’s court case sparked fury amongst the black community and provoked many hip-hop artists, such as Jay-Z, Beyoncé, T.I., Rick Ross and the late Nipsey Hussle, to speak up about the criminal justice system’s unfair tactics that allow sentencing black men with unjust punishments for petty crimes.
The application of real-life controversies that were so prevalent in the African-American community is what makes the trailer so unique and bolder than the average fan-made tale. Cooper’s edition is nothing short of a revolutionary statement. If the young and talented writer decided to go through with making a trailer into a motion-picture or a series production, it would definitely be well-received by the African-American community, who have been superfans since the show’s airing, and younger fans who spend their summer break watching reruns on VH1.
“Bel-Air” is relatable, inspiring and spreads awareness of modern societal issues. Though unintentional, Cooper may have proved how something as silly as fan-fiction can influence an entire culture.