92nd Oscars Nominees Luncheon - Arrivals 92nd Oscars Nominees Luncheon - Arrivals
Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver attend the 92nd Oscars Nominees Luncheon on January 27, 2020 in Hollywood, California.
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Oscar-Nominated Director Matthew A. Cherry On 'Hair Love' And Our Dazzling Relationship With Afro-Textured Curls

The director shares how his touching film was made, The Crown Act and shifting the conversation on black hair.

Long before Black people knew about the differences between 4C and 3B hair textures, we knew our kinks and coils were to be brushed down, pressed, straightened, and tamed. Thankfully, times have changed. With the natural hair movement revving up in the past decade, Black people across the globe have become more in-tuned to the beauty of their tresses. In 2017, filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry, a former NFL wide receiver, became increasingly aware of this desire to connect with our roots. However, a lack of representation of natural hair continued to fester in popular culture and Hollywood.

Teaming up with masterful artist Vashti Harrison and Sony Pictures Animation executive, Karen Toliver, Cherry hit the ground running and launched his Kickstarter campaign for Hair Love. The warm and delightful Oscar-nominated film follows Zuri, a bright-eyed young girl who wants her gloriously voluminous afro to be styled perfectly for a special occasion. Zuri's father, Stephen, doesn't typically take on the task of doing his daughter's hair. Yet, with the help of a natural hair vlogger named Angela (voiced by Issa Rae), Stephen dives into Zuri's curls showcasing the love and patience it takes to care for Black hair.

Hair Love continues to be a vital part of our cultural conversation. Shortly after the Christmas holiday, Barbers Hill High School senior DeAndre Arnold was told he would not be allowed to return to school or walk at graduation unless he cuts his dreadlocks. Arnold is an A-student who has worn locks for years. Yet, despite the national outrage, Barbers Hill High School refuses to budge on their discriminatory policy, saying only, “the district would not be commenting further on the matter.” The teen would film himself in Hair Love's orbit as Cherry, along with producers Gabrielle Union-Wade and Dwyane Wade, invited Arnold and his mother to the Oscars as their special guests.

Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Toliver chatted with VIBE about the magic of Hair Love and their journey to the Academy Awards.

VIBE: Let's start at the very beginning. When did you first become aware of your hair?

Matthew Cherry: That's a good question. I'll probably say more in high school. I went to this private high school up in the suburbs of Chicago, and it wasn't very diverse. I was having to go to different barbers and have different conversations as it related to my hair. I think that was the first time I was like, "Oh wow, this is a totally different situation." I was aware of my mother and sister's hair much earlier. My mom worked a corporate job, so she always had her hair a certain way. My sister was an athlete like me, and I witnessed her hair journey as it related to sports.

Karen Toliver: For me, it was very early, elementary school. I grew up in Dallas. I went to a private school where I was the only Black kid. I recently saw the episode "Hair Day" from Black-ish, we all have that experience. It's going to the salon, spending the whole day, or having your mom press and burn the back of your neck—all those things that we do. I started wearing my hair natural when I went to New York in college. That was really a liberating experience. Coming from Texas and going to Brooklyn for the first time, it was so eye-opening and empowering. I never turned back.

Matthew, why were you so adamant about bringing Hair Love to life and starting the viral Kickstarter campaign?

Matthew: In 2016, I had come across this cool computer-generated image of a Black dad working at his computer, with his daughter sitting right in his lap. It was so cute. The daughter had these two puffs. I was like, "Wow, I've never really seen this in animation before." I made a half-hearted effort to try to get the movie made. I reached out to artists, but for whatever reason, nobody responded, I forgot about it.

Two years later, when I kept seeing these videos of dads doing their daughter's hair, I thought, "Okay, there's clearly something here. I'm seeing this again for a reason. The time is now." Vashti [Harrison] had done a drawing of a friend of mine for her birthday. I hadn't really seen Black hair being drawn in that way. Luckily, this was right before she blew up, so it worked out timing-wise. When we got the book deal with Penguin Random House, they'd already been tracking her for her first book, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, so she actually ended up illustrating the Hair Love book too.

Karen, I know that you were involved with Hair Love on a personal level before Sony got involved. What bolstered your decision to attach yourself to this project?

Karen: I knew our producing partner, Monica [Young] socially. When Monica and Matthew were starting the Kickstarter, they were reaching out to people they knew in animation, and they'd already gotten Peter Ramsey and Frank Abney involved. They asked me about helping out. I was an executive at Fox at the time. I said, "Listen, I've got a day job, but I love what this is about." I've been in animation for two decades but had never seen anything about a Black family in the way that Matthew was talking about it. I wanted to support them, but I didn't think I was going to be able to be the producer.

Luckily, it was at a time where I was leaving Fox and going to Sony, so I was able to put it as a producer project. I was able to come into Sony knowing that this was going to be a little hobby, a nights and weekends thing. Luckily, Sony really believed in it and understood. Working on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, they knew how important diversity and representation is, so they just supported it as almost a super sponsor.

Now that the film has debuted and the book is out, we've all seen these gorgeous images of little Black girls across the globe watching the movie and reading the book. What have these images meant to the both of you?

 

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Karen: It's so emotional and so wonderful. I could have never imagined this response. Somebody even recreated the whole short in live-action, shot for shot. There's something about animation that you can place yourself in it. It's really a gift.

Matthew: It goes back to what we wrote in the Kickstarter campaign. We wanted to create something that people would see themselves in while changing the conversation around natural hair. It's just crazy how much more has happened, like that news with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley coming out and announcing that she is dealing with alopecia.

Then there's the whole conversation around The CROWN Act that prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture. For us, being able to help to normalize that conversation and do something that shows a young girl who is proud of her hair, and her young millennial dad who has tattoos and is wearing long locks—it's been really cool.

There is so much collaboration in Hair Love. One of your main partners was Dove; how did they come on board for the project?

Matthew: They were involved very early on. I think they reached out the first week of the Kickstarter before we even knew we were going to hit our goal. They just basically asked how they could support us, and they gave us a little money to help us get over the hump. Dove has been supportive throughout this process, and they are one of the big backers of The CROWN Act. They were just like, we see what you guys are doing, and we really support the idea.

Have there been discussions about extending the Hair Love universe into television or a feature-length film?

Karen: Right now, we're just enjoying the celebration, but we love those characters. There's been a lot of thought getting to this moment. So yeah, we're talking about it and trying to see what makes sense.

Matthew, back in 2012, you said you wanted to be an Oscar-nominated director, and now that has come to fruition. Hair Love has been nominated for Best Animated Short at the 2020 Academy Awards. How does that feel?

Matthew: When I tweeted that in 2012, it was a darker time. I'd done my first feature, and I had hoped that the world would open up for me, and agents would reach out, and job opportunities would come, and I could break into TV. None of that happened. It was just something I wanted to put out there to keep me motivated and keep my eye on the prize, but for it to happen is just unreal. I love that the project is getting that much more shine.

Therefore, The CROWN Act will get much more shine, and young Black girls will be able to have more confidence moving forward. This has been such an amazing project to be a part of. Hopefully, more doors will open up, and it will be a little easier to get projects with diverse characters made. But win or lose, we're good, we've already won.

The 92nd Academy Awards will air on ABC February 9 at 8 pm EST. Learn more about The CROWN Act here.

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VIBE Vault: 'Dre Day: Andre Harrell' (December 1995 / January 1996)

In the business of music, there's no name with as much resonance as Motown. Former Uptown Entertainment president Andre Harrell—the man responsible for Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, and Heavy D—is taking over the legendary label and promising to bring the noise. But can he fight through the nostalgia and lead Motown into the 21st century? By Anthony DeCurtis. Photographs by Dana Lixenberg

"You know how Jeffrey Katzenberg became Disney? That's what I want to do. Like, how you felt Jeffrey had a passion about Disney—his Mickey Mouse watches, Disney sweatshirt, Disney tie. That's what I'm talking about. I will be at the Motown Cafe. I'll make Motown ties, watch­es, sweatshirts. I intend to make Motown the black Disney," Andre Harrell says with a smile. "You might as well start calling me Walt."

Harrell, 35, is obviously a man with a plan. Good thing, too. He's stepping into one of the most vis­ible jobs in the entertainment industry: president and CEO of Motown Records. "It's always been a dream of mine to head up Motown," he says.

Yet the lofty position confronts Harrell with a critical challenge. Motown has fallen far from what it once was. Aside from the monumental Boyz II Men, Motown has increasingly become a sound­track for nostalgia, much more redolent of the past than the present. It's so hard to say good-bye to yesterday, indeed. Harrell, a product of the hip hop generation, knows his job is to introduce Mo­town—music, television, film, video, animation, and new media—to tomorrow.

A Bronx native, he got his start in the early '8os as half of the rap duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (He was Dr. Jekyll.) After moving over to the business side of the business, he hooked up with rap mogul Russell Simmons and soon landed a top spot at Simmons's company, Rush Communications, where he worked with the likes of Run-D.M.C., L.L. Cool J, and Whodini.

Harrell stepped out on his own in 1986, when he launched his own label, Uptown Entertain­ment, as part of a joint venture with MCA. At Uptown, Harrell defined a contemporary R&B sound for the hip hop age, bringing the world Guy, Heavy D, Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Al B. Sure!, Father MC, and most recently, Soul for Real (with whom he had his first No. 1 pop hit, "Candy Rain"). He produced the 1991 film Strictly Business, and he coproduces the hit Fox series New York Undercover.

Successful as the artists on his label proved to be, Harrell has felt constrained in his efforts to make them pop superstars, both by his arrange­ment with Uptown's parent company, MCA, and by the troubling racial politics of the music busi­ness in general. Moving to Motown, which is now based in Los Angeles and owned by PolyGram, presents Harrell with the opportunity to put at least some of these issues behind him. At Motown, Harrell says, he'll have more people, more prerogative, more punch.

Seated on a couch in the living room of his Upper West Side New York apartment, dressed simply in a black shirt and white slacks, Harrell focused squarely through his blue shades on what must be done. A framed photo of a serious-looking Harrell arm-in-arm with Mickey Mouse sat on an end table.

Clearly a man who enjoys control, Harrell was soft-spoken and intent. He didn't want to be mis­understood. "Am I correct?" he would ask. "Do you follow me?" He leaned forward, and his voice rose with passion as he discussed his frustrations with MCA. Otherwise, he slipped back into the pil­lows of his sofa and spoke as if he was envisioning his future life in a dream.

Harrell knows he has as much on the line as Motown, if not more. All eyes will be on him. It's one thing to say you would've done something if only you'd gotten the chance. It's quite another to get the chance and have to do it.

"Every record has gotta be right," he said. "I'm trying to sign stars. I'm not gonna have wack-juice on me. Never did, never will."

What has Motown meant to you over the years? When was the first time you knew what it was?

The first true Motown experience I had was when the Jackson 5 were on the Ed Sullivan Show. I think it might've been, like, 1969, '70. They sang "Stand!" and "I Want You Back." I had never seen a black teenager on television—it was incredible. After that, I realized who the Motown artists were. My parents listened to them: the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, the Four Tops, the Temptations.

What did the company represent for you?

Motown has always been the epitome of black excellence and artistry. Stevie sang about love in the most sensitive way, as well as telling about the plight of his people. Marvin sang about the plight of his people and his internal fight, but he sang about love in a very sexy way. They were major influences.

Speaking of Stevie Wonder, he made a strong album last year and nothing happened with it. Can Motown sell a Stevie Wonder record in this day and age?

The Four Tops, the Temps, and, especially, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross—these are national trea­sures. You have to treat them like events. Stevie Wonder, he's someone I would do an Unplugged with. Or a couple of years ago, it was Stevie's 3oth anniversary in show business. You could have got­ten Stevie Wonder a television special. We could have had artists pay tribute to him—pop artists, rock artists, R&B artists, rap artists, everybody could have participated. And there's probably no other female, black or white, who's as fabulous as Diana Ross, who epitomizes the glamour and excitement of a star diva.

What about new directions? What makes Motown happen in the '9os?

Motown has to become the lifestyle label for the times that the active record-buying audience—the audience who's 15 to 3o—is living in. One of the ways you do this is by putting out records that are in the groove that that audience is living in. Like if Mary J. Blige was a Motown artist, Motown would have some of her imaging on it. It's that young, hip hop—soul, Generation X energy. Same thing if Jodeci was on the label. Back in the day, Motown talked to everybody in the ghetto—and it talked to the rest of the world too.

"WHEN YOU THINK OF MOTOWN NOW, YOU'RE GONNA THINK OF ANDRE HARRELL. I'M NOT GONNA WORK FOR MOTOWN, I'M GONNA BE MOTOWN."

That sounds like the philosophy you espoused at Uptown.

The thing that [Motown founder] Berry Gordy led the way with is the idea that the label head becomes the image of the label. Myself, I allowed whatever celebri­ty occurred in my career to happen through the artists. I was so consistent with the kinds of artists who were on my label, after a while, it was, like, "Who's behind all this?" I was behind it.

Going into Motown, my plan is this: When you think of Motown now, you're gonna think of Andre Harrell. I'm not gonna work for Motown, I'm gonna be Motown—in the way I dress, the records I put out, the causes I choose to get involved in, the artists from the past, the artists who are there now, and the artists in the future. Like I lived Uptown Records, I'm gonna live Motown Records.

But you, Russell Simmons, Sean ."Puffy" Combs—and Berry Gordy before you—are entrepreneurs. You're identified with the companies you founded. With this, you're stepping into something—

—that's already existing. I'm gonna be Motown for this generation of young-adult record buyers. Motown was the blueprint. Berry Gordy was the blueprint for what I became.

Were you conflicted about leaving Uptown?

I had tremendous conflict. It was like I was walking away from my works of art. There will never be another Mary J. Blige—it's rare to find a queen. There will nev­er be another Jodeci. There'll never be another Heavy D. But I have to go, because Motown gives me the power I need to go to the next level. I have to make African-American superstars. At Uptown, I was able to make black icons, but they were icons only to black people.

[I was] trying to grow Uptown, to have indepen­dence, to be able to say, "This act is getting ready to be a worldwide star, and I'm gonna take all my resources, and we're gonna march to this one beat." I was trying to do that for nine years. Between me and the corpora­tion, I could never get it to happen.

In terms of support from MCA?

I think MCA, after a period, wanted some of these things to happen. For whatever reasons, though, the execution between the two sides never worked. The biggest record I ever had was Jodeci's [1991] Forever My Lady—3 million.

When [Arista president] Clive Davis got in the game, I felt myself shrinking. Once he got in business with LaFace [L.A. Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds] and [Dallas Austin's] Rowdy Records and Puffy [Bad Boy Entertainment], Davis's commitment and his exe­cution were taking those artists where I wanted my artists to go. I wanted Mary J. Blige to sell the 7 million that Toni Braxton did.

Jodeci came to me because I had Al B. Sure! So they figured, "He knows how to do this. We wanna be down with him." They drove 13 hours, sat in my lobby for eight hours just to meet me. Now, I feel like, with Arista being involved with LaFace and the other labels, they sold 7 million Toni Braxtons. They sold 6 million TLCs. I'm, like, if I can't sell these kinds of records, I'm gonna slowly shrink. I was catching heat from my artists, who wanted that kind of stature. I would bring that frustra­tion to MCA, and we couldn't seem to come to terms.

Was the idea, "Well, Andre's doing fine. He's doing a cou­ple of million here, a couple of million there. He's covered. Were gonna invest somewhere else"?

I felt like a figurehead. I had all this energy around me—like, I was the Man. I was the founder and chairman of Uptown Records, a major, culturally influen­tial entertainment company for African-Americans in the '9os. But I didn't feel like the Man, because I could­n't put my finger on the button that would really make it happen. I don't want to be in that position anymore. I need to have more control. I need to be responsible for the big picture. And being at Motown positions me to create a truly black pop company. I got a film divi­sion, a television division. I got green-light power for small movies. I don't have to ask anybody.

What are your plans with Gordy?

We're gonna do a series of commercials—print and television. He endorses me. We spoke yesterday for about an hour, and he said, "Any advice I can give you about where we go from here, feel free to call me." We're gonna spend time together and talk about his history with the elder stars. I feel as if I've had a tremendous amount of experience working with stars' drama and ego, but we're talking a whole 'nother level of stars. I've never built a superstar. There're superstars at this house.

How do you build superstars?

If black stars are gonna have a shot at becoming pop stars, it's gonna be because the chairman of the company is committed to them—and because their music is his personal taste. That's what I'm bringing to black music, to black musical stars. Not just their art form but their plight as African-American men and women.

What you're describing is a role that black executives play, but aren't they often frustrated in their attempts to rise at most record companies? 

I can't talk about it enough, how few black execu­tives get to control their playing field. Black music is becoming the music of the popular culture. Because of that, companies are repositioning their priorities and trying to get in the game. But as black music becomes more important, there should be more black presidents and black chairmen. As soon as the black executive's artist reaches platinum, suddenly the artist and man­ager have to deal with the president of the corporation, because he controls the priorities at pop radio. The black executive becomes obsolete. As his music gets bigger his power diminishes. He's more or less told, "Go find the next act and establish it."

It's an emphasis on the creative—

—as opposed to the business. That's why young black executives don't get to become the old chairmen—the wise men who've seen it and done it. They get to stay hot black executives so long as their instincts are hot. But this is a lifestyle business—only a few of us, black or white, are going to be cool enough to have great in­stincts our whole career.

The black executive is not given the opportunity to become the business and the music. Why not? Why shouldn't he be the one that everybody reports to? When you get an act that sells 5 million—at a major compa­ny—the black executive's out of the room. But when there's some sort of problem, the major label looks at the black executive: "Why can't you handle this act?" When the artist hires a violent manager and the violent manager is coming up to the record company, the label's, like, "How did it get to this?" How? Because they [the white executives] couldn't see it coming. Because they re not sensitive to his issues. By then the relation­ship between the record company and the artist is dys­functional. And then the black executive gets blamed and fired. But they created the monster.

When I had the artist, I talked to his mother, his girl­friend, his babies' mother with the two children, dealt with his drug counselor, and whatever other dysfunc­tional Generation X problems he has. He'd call me late at night.

But he feels like they're just businesspeople. And they don't understand. And they might be racist. He's comin' with all that energy. Even if they like him as a person, he still has goo years of issues he has to get over to accept them. And they have a lot of work to do to gain his trust and respect.

So what are your immediate plans?

I will be moving to Beverly Hills. I'll have a house out there for a 12-to-18-month period, and I'll be bicoastal between the New York and L.A. offices. Then I'm moving the company to New York. I'm going to have a satellite office in Atlanta—A&R-oriented. I'm going to build a recording studio in New York, Motown Studios.

Any new musical directions?

The sound I'm going for now is soul. I'm looking for voices that sound like 400 years of slavery and then some. I'm looking for that inspirational, take-us-out­-of-our-plight, Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Al Green voice. I'm looking to build those kinds of stars now.

What about the younger acts on Motown? Have you met with Boyz II Men?

No. Those meetings will come after I execute the deal. Boyz II Men are the biggest group I've ever seen. I don't know what I'm bringing to the party except to keep them from goin' crazy from the level of success they've had. They probably need a break, a little time out to lead their personal lives. Outside of that, that for­mula is working. Queen Latifah, I'd like to bring her record sales up to match her celebrity. Zhané I'd like to give a little bit more image. I'm gonna bring Johnny Gill back—he had a fabulous first album. And I'm excit­ed about working with Michael Bivins. He's tremen­dously talented, and if he and I get together, we can real­ly do some important things.

Are you apprehensive?

I got a lot of work to do. But no problems. Making hits is not a problem. I'll be making some noise real quick. And I ain't gonna stop makin' noise until I'm done.

-

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1995 - Jan. 1996 issue of VIBE Magazine | Written by Anthony DeCurtis | Header Photography by Dana Lixenberg

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DJ Khaled attends the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

DJ Khaled Cuts Off Twerker On Instagram Live, Inspires "Talk To Me Normal" Remix

Like the saying goes: when you give an inch, they take a mile. DJ Khaled learned that lesson over the weekend after he had to cut off a twerking follower on his Instagram Live session.

The producer and recording artist hopped on his social media account on Sunday (May 3) to chat with his fans and followers. To make the moment more engaging and interactive, Khaled opened up his request lines for one-on-one chats and chose a couple of lucky followers. What he didn't realize was that one request would be from a woman ready to twerk on camera, Quarantine Radio style.

"Oh, sh*t, oh, sh*t," he said aloud with his hands up in the air once he realized what was about to go down. "No, no, don't do that. No, it's all love but you know what I'm saying? I've got a family and everything. I've got love," he stressed to the giggling blonde before she proceeded to pour water on her derrière.

 

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I have love for everyone please take it easy when I’m on fan luv ig luv . Again I have love for everyone please lets be respectful nothing but love BLESS UP !

A post shared by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled) on May 3, 2020 at 4:25pm PDT

"Just talk to me normal, talk to me normal," he requested as he covered his eyes from seeing what she was doing. But did she care to oblige? Nope, because 45 seconds of fame and "we live baby!" Khaled gave up on pleading and closed out the chat repeating, "I can't, I can't."

Shortly after, Khaled posted the incident on his Instagram account with the caption, "I have love for everyone please take it easy when I’m on fan luv ig luv. Again I have love for everyone please lets be respectful nothing but love BLESS UP!"

And like clockwork, the video made its rounds and inspired one producer to create a remix, because, that's what we do when we need another level of comic relief. Much like Brooklyn's own DJ iMarkkeyz, who gained momentum on Billboard's charts for his remix of Cardi B's coronavirus rant, producer DJ Suede posted a remix of the moment and it brought more laughs to probably one of DJ Khaled's most stressful moments.

Hear it down below. You're welcome.

 

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#IGotAFamily #IGotLove 🕺🏾💎#RemixgodSuede #AnotherOne @therealcocoabrown #Diamonds @sophiajamesxo

A post shared by Dj Suede (@remixgodsuede) on May 3, 2020 at 9:48pm PDT

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Will Smith Hosts Virtual Reunion With ‘Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air’ Cast

Ahead of the official 30-year anniversary of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s debut, Will Smith hosted a virtual reunion with his cast members for the latest episode of his Snapchat show, Will From Home. Tatyana Ali, Alfonso Ribiero, Karyn Parsons, Joseph Marcell, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Daphne Maxwell Reid reunited with Smith via the video conferencing app, Zoom.

“Reunited and it feels so good,” Smith wrote on Instagram on Wednesday (April 29). “It’s been 30 years since the first season of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ so I thought we should have ourselves a lil Zoom reunion!! Check us out.”

Smith posted a snippet from the Zoom reunion that showcases the special bond between the Fresh Prince cast. The crew also sent well wishes to Jeff, who recently recovered from coronavirus.

“Jeff you had us all scared,” says Ribiero.

“Not as scared as I was,” Jeff responds. “It was a little rough but I’m definitely happy to be on the other side.”

Marcell, who played the family butler “Geoffrey” on the series, appears to be enjoying life under quarantine. “There’s something amazing about house arrest,” he quips.

“This is probably not your first time [on house arrest],” Smith jokingly replies.

Loosely based on the life of show producer Benny Medina, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air premiered on September 10, 1990. The sitcom aired for six seasons before ending its run in May 1996.

Watch a clip from the reunion below.

 

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Reunited and it feels so… AHHHHHH! It’s been 30 years since the first season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air so I thought we should have ourselves a lil Zoom reunion!! Check us out, link in bio. #WillFromHome

A post shared by Will Smith (@willsmith) on Apr 29, 2020 at 10:50am PDT

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