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From the Fresh Prince to some fresh prints. You may know Karyn Parsons as Hilary Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and other acting endeavors throughout the 90s, but today, she has shifted much of her focus on being an author and educator by curating content geared at expanding our knowledge of black history and the black experience.
Parsons sat with host and VIBE.com writer J’na Jefferson to discuss her debut novel, How High The Moon, which was released on Mar. 5. The book itself deals with matters such as colorism in the Jim Crow South, and pulls shared inspiration from her mother’s experiences growing up in South Carolina in the ’40s and her own personal experiences. The novel also references the real-life tragedy of George Stinney, a then-14 year old South Carolinian boy who was executed for killing two white girls (a crime he was wrongly convicted of and was exonerated for after his death).
“[Stinney’s] story is not an uplifting story, instead it’s a tragedy,” she explained of including Stinney in the novel. “It was always so distressing to me, and his face always comes up and it’s so haunting. When I embarked on How High The Moon… it just made sense [that] George was going to be a part of this story.”
Parsons is also the founder of a children’s film series uncovering some untold stories of black historic figures called Sweet Blackberry, which has been narrated by figures such as Chris Rock and Queen Latifah and has been screened on HBO and Netflix. She notes during the podcast that her goal in creating this type of content is to make it relatable and interesting for school-age children.
“History was always presented… with big heavy books, and little tiny print and thin pages and dates, dates, dates,” she chuckles, “without always making you understand ‘why?’ or who the people were, or that they were just like you… Because of my experience of [history] being so dry, I wanted to meet [students] where they were… I wanted to engage them, I wanted to make it fun.”
Of course, there was also a discussion about her vain, yet lovable character on the ’90s comedy sitcom. Although she was materialistic on the surface, Parsons believes Hilary Banks was proof that you can get what you want in life as long as you go for it.
“You have to give it to [Hilary] that she spoke up for herself without any problem, there was no shame for Hilary in saying ‘I’m too good for you,'” she says of the character. “She was just really taking care of what needed to be taken care of to do the things that she wanted to do… it was liberating [to play her], she was full-charge, walk into the room, full-confidence.”
“Sometimes, you have to just own it. The world isn’t gonna fall apart,” she says of what Hilary taught her about herself. “You say, ‘this is what I’m gonna do,’ and you’d be surprised at how much people are like ‘oh, okay!'”
Listen to the full episode below.