Black Sitcom Battles: Janet Hubert-Whitten vs. Daphne Maxwell Reid

Which actress nailed the role as “Aunt Viv”?

 By: Taren Vaughan

Before becoming one of the most dominating Black actors in the movie industry, Will Smith was known as a teenage “Prince” with a high top fade and colorful clothes. Lasting a total of six seasons, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air brought laughter to many households across the nation. As a token of its success, it became one of the longest running African American sitcoms of the ‘90’s. Snagging the lead role, Smith was joined by a number of cast mates who dished out the comic relief episode after episode.

Not quite Clair Huxtable but certainly on her level, the “Aunt Viv” character definitely goes down as one of the most adored TV moms of all time. With a witty personality of her own, “Aunt Viv” was originally played by Actress Janet Hubert-Whitten, who now goes by Janet Hubert. A perfect fit as Hubert appeared to be, things off camera were not as jovial between her and fellow cast members. Breaking her silence a few years ago, Hubert talked about her experiences both on and off set and about Smith’s need to be the sole star of the show, keeping the likes of Actress Countess Vaughn from joining the cast:

“I recall the lovely and incredibly talented Countess Vaughn coming to guest star. Oh my God! The day of table read, she was pee-in-your-pants funny. The writers were howling, we were howling, so I knew she was history – banished into the cornfield. Many years later, after she had her own show, I had to tell her when she asked me why. ‘Miss Janet why did I get cut from the episode,’ she asked. ‘Simply, my darling, you were too good.’” 

Despite the rift between her and her “nephew”, many fans of the show took a huge liking to her, never anticipating her sudden departure. After three seasons on the show, Hubert  stepped off the scene and was replaced by Actress Daphne Maxwell Reid.

A more low key version of “Aunt Viv”, to much people’s surprise, Reid fit right into the mix. But could she hold a candle to the original?

Switching aunts didn’t impact the longevity or overall success of the show. And neither of the ladies who played the role went past sitcom stardom.

But when it comes down to who played the role the best, which aunt was your fav?




  1. The original Aunt Viv was fired because she was a dark skinned woman. Will and the producers at the time obviously had an agenda. She was very strong, and then they opted for the weaker light skinned Aunt Viv. I guess they felt she was more marketable. Happens all the time. The first one was better though.

    1. What the hell?! What do you mean the lighter and weaker Aunt Viv? There was nothing weak about her. She spoke her mind like any other black woman. Why is it that black folks like to always try to make lighter skin women out to be weak? How sad and unnecessary. Grow up and stop being a problem to the black community.

      1. What are you living on Fantasy Island? I usually love your comments, but girl we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. Now you know that the replacement Aunt Viv was selected because they were tired of the “loud mouth, too outspoken black woman Aunt Viv.” And no, the replacement was not a strong black woman. She was weak and a forgettable character. Will had her fired because she had a backbone. This is deeper than light vs. dark. This is about the assassination of strong black women on television period. There hasn’t been an Original Aunt Viv on tv ever since!

        1. If Janet was all that strong Will wouldnt have been able to get her fired under any circumstance being that she has been such a great actor for 10yrs. She was loud mouth and out spoken because that was her character and role. No one can really say who was stronger than who but the replacement Viv was smarter, getting paid a quarter mill is better than getting paid nothing at all.

      2. I don’t think she was weaker because she was light skin. I just think for the network people lighter black people are more acceptable and less threatening and that’s how they made her character. Most people associate black woman as being disagreeable, rolling their eyes and necks, and that’s what the original Aunt Viv portrayed. When they dismissed Janet Hubert from her role they went in a totally opposite direction. Daphne Maxwell Reid came along and seemed to be more whiny than argumentative and didn’t have that same take charge attitude as the original. It is sad that she was lighter, and I think we need to all be aware of that and not pretend that she wasn’t more agreeable with a lighter complexion.

    2. I agree Janet was the better actress.I hope a tv show picks her up for the talent she is…. like a high powered lawyer with a kick a-s attitude and Will Smith guest stars as a hoodlum.

  2. The original Aunt Viv was definitely the better of the two! I agree with Megan that she just didn’t have the look and she had the kind of personality that probably clashed with the people who ran the show. She nailed the part but she seemed like she was a b-tch to work with in real life!

  3. I always like the original Aunt Viv. She was more of a role model and commanded more of a presence. I always thought it was sad that the new Aunt Viv wasn’t as outspoken and head strong. She never spoke about education and presented herself as a strong woman. All of the sudden Aunt Viv was this cutesy stay at home mom with an occasional attitude. The new Aunt Viv definitely did a disservice to that part, which started out as a woman you didn’t want to mess with and turned into this soft spoken background character. So I guess Will got what he wanted. Amazing the same thing happened with the moms on Family Matters…also interesting both characters went from a dark skin woman to a much lighter skin woman, but hey maybe I’m the only one that noticed. 🙂

  4. The first Aunt Viv easily was the best one. She spoke her mind about relevant issues and she was a bigger star on the show than Will at the time. And that is why she was kicked off. Will couldn’t handle a black woman stealing his spotlight. I’m not saying that light skin black women don’t endure struggles like any other black person, but it’s something about a strong dark skinned black women that is seen more so as a threat than the latter. Especially in Hollywood.

  5. Will comes off like such a great person, but how he did the first Aunt Viv was shady. He kicked her off from being the bigger star. She never got over that either seeing as she keeps doing interviews about it til this day. It seems like he kind of black balled her or something because she hasn’t really had a gig since. Shame.

  6. Man everybody on here is coming hard with some interesting points. The state of TV today shows that much has not changed since The Fresh Prince. There are not many black women on sitcoms or dramas, but the few that are cannot be considered dark skinned black women. The only person even really putting on black women on real shows is Shonda Rhimes, and on Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy the black actresses are strong non-dark skinned woman. I don’t think that is a coincidence, but a standard Hollywood still requires everyone follows.

  7. To be dark skinned and outspoken will get you blacklisted in Hollywood and kicked off a tv show quick. And ain’t nothing changed since Will’s shady a– left TV. Ask Isiah Washington!

  8. Jesus, are we really going down this “Replaced by a lighter skinned actress” road? Gimme a break!

    Yes, Janet Hubert was the better Aunt Viv. She did have a commanding presence, a take-no-nonsense attitude, and was a good counterpoint to Uncle Phil. But even so, it felt there was something somewhat sinister behind her character or her performance. And I guess that was the big problem. Alfonso Ribeiro said she just went nuts and became difficult to work with. “She was a very talented actress… cuckoo!” LOL!

    I work in the entertainment field and here’s the honest truth: If you’re argumentative and have an ego, you’re not gonna work and you might even be fired from the job you’re doing, even if you’re doing it very well. If you’re amiable and professional, you get more work. Simple as that.

    As for the change in character, Daphne Reid’s Aunt Viv just had a baby, which definitely changes people. Her character was more innocent and laid-back. I still think she did a good job. Honestly, I never really paid as much attention to Aunt Viv as I did to Carlton, Uncle Phil or Hilary. She’s more the voice of reason behind everyone else’s craziness.

  9. I am not overly familiar with the conflict here. All of this race and skin shade stuff aside doesn’t factor in at all; and I think the above comments are bull – Quincy Jones would never put down a woman for being too black.

    Just my opinion, but I liked the original Aunt Viv the best of the two. It might have been that she is the one I was used to, but felt she portrayed a more interesting take on the character. I also liked her higher energy more. I warmed much more to her character than the later one.

    Ironically, despite the two actors disliking each other, I felt she was most like Will of any character on the show’s main cast, in terms of her energy and how she carried herself. She was also definitely much more like Vy. She was just better for the part.

    The newer Aunt Viv wasn’t terrible, she was good for the role too. I just didn’t like her as much as the original.

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