Morgan Cooper, the director of Bel-Air, the short trailer inspired by the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, discusses the viral success of the project.
Over the weekend, a fan-made trailer inspired by the iconic ’90s black sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was uploaded to YouTube. Directed by Morgan Cooper, the trailer reimagines the TV series through a contemporary lens, with Jerry Madison portraying Will Smith.
The short video maintains some of the humor that defined the popular TV show while focusing on the drama surrounding Will’s move from West Philadelphia to Bel-Air.
This is fucking brilliant. https://t.co/5VqToQMKdh
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) March 11, 2019
Since its release, the video has become a viral sensation, having been shared across social media and even receiving praise from celebrities like Alyssa Milano (according to Cooper, Will Smith has seen Bel Air too).
“A lot has happened in the last 48 hours and continues to happen,” Cooper said over the phone. “People have really taken to this.”
Growing up watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Cooper wanted to use the trailer to explore the more serious topics the TV series touched on.
“I felt like growing up I always thought there was more to the story more behind the sitcom format,” Cooper said. “I thought, ‘Wow, we could take this story and really ground it in reality in a really dramatic way.'”
With help from his partners at Sun Squared Media, Cooper started working on Bel-Air, which he says took six months to complete. He used his work as a commercial cinematographer to fund the passion project.
“It was an intensive process,” Cooper said. “We shot four days in Kansas City — all the Philadelphia stuff was shot in Kansas City. The living room we shot in that takes place in the first act of the piece — with Will and his mom — is actually my aunt’s living room.”
A Kansas City native, Cooper employed a handful of talent from the city for the primary roles. Kira Ashby (Aunt Viv), Jelani Talib (Carlton Banks), Sada K. (Hilary Banks), Khrystal Coppage (Ashley Banks) are all from Kansas City. Madison was the only LA actor involved with the project.
“To be able to bring part of the shoot to Kansas City means the world to me,” Cooper said. Just to show like, “Hey, we’re out here.”
Cooper had even filmed what is arguably one of the most important scenes from the series for the trailer — Will’s “How come he don’t want me?” scene from season four’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse” episode.
“You just can’t top the performance of “How come he don’t want me?” with Will and his dad. Just thinking about it gives me chills,” Cooper said of the scene, which also happens to be his favorite. “That was something that was originally gonna be in the trailer. We shot it and it was great but it didn’t end up making it.”
As for why Cooper set Fresh Prince in 2019, he wanted to use the TV show’s timeless story as a lens to explore a lot of serious problems that are occurring in the world today. The allusions to Meek Mill throughout the trailer reinforces that, apparel bearing the phrases “Free Meek” or “What would Meek do?” serving as reminders of the injustice the Philly rapper faced when he was imprisoned for violating his probation.
“Meek is Philly and he means a lot to the city, especially in 2019,” Cooper said of the references to the Championships rapper. “And hip-hop goes hand in hand with Fresh Prince. So to tie those aspects together — Philly, Meek, and my version of Fresh Prince — was very important. It touches on the justice system a little bit. What people go through in these communities. I felt it was really important to pay homage to Meek and what he means to his community.”
Cooper says that he would love to expand upon the world he’s introduced people to through his Fresh Prince trailer but nothing is set in stone yet. He also adds that a lot has come from the virality of the trailer, which has pushed back other passion projects that he has in the works.
Still, he’s happy to see that Bel-Air has resonated so strongly with people.
“When we first made this thing I was really confident in the art. The internet’s the internet. You never if something’s gonna catch a spark or not,” Cooper says. “I’m very excited for everything that has happened and receive it humbly. But at the end of the day I’m a black creative and representing my culture and expressing myself authentically is of the utmost importance to me.”