Jabari Banks has echoed rhythms of brilliance from past to present, the Philly-native has cemented himself in the industry – showing us that not only is he becoming a household name, he’s a force to be reckoned with. The up-and-coming all-star transcends the outside viewer into a realm where limits cease to exist.
MOOD Magazine met up with the actor to discuss his groundbreaking role on the show, his upbringing, the driving influences that lead him down the path of acting, and where he’s yet to go.
Jabari wears AMIRI with Jewelry by Emanuele Bicocchi
Jabari wears Acne Studios
Jabari wears AMIRI with a Louis Gabriel Nouchi tank top and Karo Koru necklace
Jabari wears MAXIMILIAN
“I'm an artist, in every sense of the word. I'm an actor and a musician and I do visual art as well. I love stories and storytelling and I've devoted my life to that.” His sentiment for storytelling has manifested itself on-screen, diving headfirst into a crowd of millions as he managed to snag a monumental lead role in ‘Bel-Air’ – a series that serves as a reboot to the beloved 90’s sitcom – a silver screen classic that millions grew up watching.
Banks manages to breathe fresh air into his role, cultivating a character that nods as a love letter to its predecessor, all while elevating it for the modern audience. It has become a story that strays away from a comedic standpoint and embodies an authentic depiction of our current generation. “It definitely was a big opportunity and a big responsibility I would say to take on this role, not only for myself as an actor – because I’m hard on myself – but also for the culture.” To be having a rebirth of a story that we all know and love comes with an overbearing pressure to thread together past and present stories. Banks shares, “I have great family and a great supportive system that allows me to blow off all the pressures, which allows me to be myself and do what I do best.”
The 24-year-old actor admittedly reveals that “acting was never on his radar,” going on to say that “I played a lot of sports, no one in my family acts or sings, we all have ordinary desk jobs. I went out on a limb and dove into the arts, I was lucky enough to have the support of my family, I’m very blessed.” It was a ‘“fish out of the water experience,” as he would explain it, the contrasting shift in his outlook of passions was definitely out of character, but his untapped interest for storytelling consumed every fiber in his being.
“I grew up writing poems and then I wanted to be a rapper. That was another thing on my list. But my dad put me into sports when I was really young and I fell in love with it – football, and basketball. In high school, however, I wasn't doing well in school, so I was ineligible to play on the team.” In order to stray away from the path of getting in trouble on the streets, his mom pushed him to try something else, theater. He played his first role in ‘The Wiz,’ the show that sparked attention from those around him. A snowball effect ensued and shortly after high school, Banks went to school at the University of the Arts, pinpointing the origins of his path toward acting.
‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ was actually one of the driving influences that shaped who he is today, “funny enough, it’s actually one of my favorite shows.” Banks was heavily influenced by the works of Will Smith, “it sounds a bit weird saying that now because I’m reimagining it, but I think my personality played a huge part in landing me the role.” He also loved Michael Jackson, which is what propelled him into the musical direction.
On carrying the legacy of the original show, Banks was thrilled to learn that the reboot wouldn’t be a carbon copy of the sitcom. “I don't know if it would’ve done as well. We didn’t think that we needed to see that anymore. We needed to tell the story in a different way.” The creators had an acute awareness of that and thrusted the story into a direction that propels us as a culture. This makes sense, when most people attempt to recreate the magic of a past era, they inevitably fail. It’s a story that thrusts the viewer into a storyline that’s embedded with themes and characters that the modern audience can relate to. “Again, that fish out of water coming of age story, someone who doesn't belong and they're making their way along, and that's something that we can all resonate with.”
In bringing the character to life, Banks managed to meld his past experiences with the on-screen character, sharing the same sentiments. His shared instances aligned with the character in the way that enabled him to be himself on camera, it was all-natural, for instance, when it was “Will's first time coming out to California, it was also my first time as well, so there are scenes in the show where Will is doing something for the first time and Jabari will be doing that for the first time as well.” It's sort of a meta experience for Jabari to be playing the key character as his first role, one where he lies at the center. Banks is in tune with his feelings and the confidence in his ability to play this character shines through, it’s absolutely brilliant. As each layer is peeled back, the viewer slowly begins to see that Jabari was born for this role.
Jabari wears Ami
You’d think that preparing for a scene in this reboot comes with mind boggling pressure, but Banks is a simple man. He sits alone, jams to some music, reads a book, and cultivates a universe that places him into the world of Will. “If I'm from doing a really emotional scene, then I'll definitely sit alone and, and just prepare myself for what I'm about to do. But if it's a scene where I have to have a lot of energy, I’ll dance to my music.” I love to dance and I love to play music before, so it depends on what the scene is.
“The people on set really taught me how to tap into those Philly roots and bring a certain authenticity to the character. I'm grateful for that. I don't think I would've wanted to see a show where someone who wasn't from Philly was playing this role. I just think that it's something so important. There's something so visceral and something that you can't really put your finger on that happens when you get someone that is from the place that the character is from.”
A coming-of-age storyline plagues each episode, exploring themes of strength and love.”I love the fact that we could cover the aspect of mental health and mental health issues, especially in the black community. It's something that we don't wanna talk about enough.” Banks believed it was crucial for the show and thought it translated beautifully on screen. The discussions that cascade around drug abuse, family, love, falling apart and coming back together all reveal the raw and untapped beauty of the show. With all of the saturated shows that we have today, ‘Bel-Air’ serves as a beacon for a path of storytelling that we desperately need in this day and age. The shift from comedy to drama is what differentiates this reboot from its predecessor, perfectly representing the modern black youth.
All in all, the show has seen success so far and season 2 is still streaming on Hulu and the talent of Jabari Banks has become crystal clear. “I hope that we’re able to build something through this that is just as iconic as the original. And I think that we're starting to get there.” On what he has planned next, Banks is eager to get involved with more projects and hopes to further his pursuits in the world of acting.