Akira Akbar has starred in many different projects in her younger years, but now the 16-year-old is kickstarting a new chapter of her career in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot, Bel-Air.
The original Fresh Prince of Bel-Air sitcom may be a bit before actress Akira Akbar’s time, but that did not stop the personable creative from securing a role as the modern-day Ashley Banks in the sensational reboot, Bel-Air. Bel-Air is characterized by its contemporary characters — many of which fall into the category of Gen Z — up-to-date plotlines, and a refreshing sense of authenticity that can only result from a close-knit cast that is dedicated to telling real-life stories.
Akira wears AREA
Akira wears MOSCHINO
Akira wears DOLCE&GABANNA, earrings MOSCHINO
Akira wears skirt and blouse by PACO RABANNE
For Akbar, this role is not only a chance to modernize Ashley Banks, portraying scenarios that every coming-of-age girl can relate to, but it is also an opportunity to hone in on her skills, which she expresses have come naturally, even from a very young age. On her path to acting professionally, Akbar remarks, “I started modeling [first], and my parents saw how much I lit up and was so happy in front of the camera. They suggested acting and, honestly, ever since my first role or first audition, I just absolutely loved it.”
Growing up, Akbar was an avid Disney fan. “I loved Zendaya growing up. And I still love her! I used to watch Disney Channel all the time and I used to watch her on Shake It Up and KC Undercover — I think it's just so inspiring to see how much she elevated since those roles,” she gushes. Akbar also used to watch Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reruns, making securing a role in Bel-Air a bittersweet occasion for the teen. She dives into the memory of when she first found out she was chosen to play Ashley Banks: “When I first found out, my mom picked me up from school and then she told me to call my manager. I thought I was in trouble or something, but then when my manager told me and I was just so excited and my mom was extremely proud of me because she grew up with the show,” she continues “A lot more opportunities have opened up for me since then, which has been amazing. I think I got a lot more recognition as an actress.”
Though Akbar can be seen on the big screen in many different projects — including Bel-Air, but also spanning hit television shows like Criminal Minds and Grey’s Anatomy, as well as making her debut within the Marvel cinematic universe — she is not unlike most other sixteen-year-old adolescents. Akbar still attends school on a regular schedule, finds time to hang out with her friends, and in between it all, she manages to step into many different roles behind the camera. In her Marvel days, she plays the child of a superhero and a young girl who has superpowers herself. But it seems like those superpowers didn’t just dissipate after Akbar put that role to rest, as in her daily life — she balances all of her endeavors with a super-human-like drive.
“Making a schedule in my room and also on my phone is important for me. I have a calendar of things I need to do daily and I think that helps me a lot. And for me, school is always first and foremost and then it comes acting and then hanging out with friends. I can go have fun and hang out with my friends on my downtime,” Akbar shares on the practices she has adopted to take her busy life and workloads in stride. Growing up and learning to steer life’s sometimes bumpy roads is a huge part of Ashley Banks’ character as well, which is exactly what makes Akbar a great candidate to play her. “I bring my own experiences to the character because I can relate to her a lot since I was 13 not too long ago. We're very close in age, so I can definitely put myself in her shoes and understand what she's going through,” the actress reflects.
There are certainly parts of Banks that are a bit trickier for Akbar to channel though. “Something that we don't have in common, I would say, is how outspoken Ashley is. Because I think I'm a little bit more reserved than she is. It takes me a minute to warm up with people when I'm in a room. I can come across as being shy, but when I feel comfortable, then I come out of my shell a lot more,” she expands. Like any teenager, Akbar is still trying to break out of her shell and push the boundaries of her comfort zone — and what better way to do that than on a hit television show in front of massive audiences worldwide? “ I try to learn as much as I can from Ashley because she's who I aspire to be when it comes to being outspoken and her true self. So I think I'm working on it, for sure,” Akbar adds.
The cast that Akbar is surrounded by while on the set of the reboot inspire her to blossom into her truest self and put forth her most genuine performance as well, and it helps that many of them — Jabari Banks, Coco Jones, and Olly Sholotan — to name a few, are not too far in age from Akbar herself. On what keeps her grounded in her roles, the young actress expresses, “I would say probably authenticity. Especially working with other people, as a family, like me and Lashana Lynch, who has played my mom in the past [in Captain Marvel]. We actually had a great relationship, and just like the cast of Bel-Air, we have a true bond and I think it is just very truthful. There is an authenticity that shows throughout the whole project.”
Part of that authenticity comes along with the topics that the show chooses to take on, from relatable high school drama to larger social topics, such as race and identity. Akbar conveyed some thoughts on how Bel-Air was able to revive the original program while imbuing it with real-life, up-to-date scenarios: “Bel Air does an amazing job of tackling these topics in a truthful way. And I would say that's thanks to the writers, especially Carla Banks-Waddles, who does an amazing job of making not only Ashley but the other characters very relatable in more of a more modern way.”
Akira wears ZIMMERMAN
Akira wears KHAITE
When Akbar isn’t on set with her fellow castmates or studying for upcoming tests at school, she enjoys living her life like any other teen out there and has taken an interest in other realms, including fashion and directing. Just one scroll through the actress’ social media profiles displays an array of distinct, elegant looks that she has sported, on and off camera. When it comes to her personal style, she describes it as: “Very comfortable. I can chill in a pair of sweats forever. I love sweats but also love shopping at vintage stores because they always have cute pieces to put together and it's not always like when you go to a regular store and the outfit is already put together for you. But I also love shopping at a lot of the other stores that people my age do, like Aritzia and Urban Outfitters.” For red carpets or high-profile events, Akbar leans toward, “Classy looks — and age-appropriate, of course. But also whatever I feel comfortable in too because I don't want to go to an event and I'm just uncomfortable the whole time in my heels and dress.”
On what’s to come from here, well, this is only the start for Akira Akbar. She hopes to take all of the lessons she has and continues to learn from Bel Air and bring them with her into new projects, which may or may not include some experimentation on the other side of the camera. “I would really like to do behind-the-camera work as well as being in front. One day I hope I can direct my own movie or show because that would be super cool. I also want to get more into the fashion world and go to the Met Gala one day, or to Paris Fashion Week.” Maybe one day we’ll even get to see a feature directed by Akbar herself — something a little different than the projects she has starred in, in the past. “I would love to make a horror movie. One of my favorite shows is American Horror Story, so I would love to direct one of those someday.”
Bel Air Seasons 1 and 2 are currently streaming on Peacock, where you can watch Akira Akbar and her castmates in action.