Her punishment may have been a blessing in disguise. Without a creative outlet at school, Parsons threw herself full force into a serious community acting workshop, where she studied Stanislavski and Hagen and spent any extra time she had on the audition circuit.
Enter executive producer Quincy Jones and a pilot for a new fish-out-of-water sitcom centered on an affluent Black family.
In , with just three bit TV roles to her name—which, to be fair, was still more acting experience than Will Smith had at the time—Parsons nabbed the role of Hilary Banks. Nearly bankrupt and millions in debt to the IRS after his early musical success , Smith jumped at the chance for a steady, lucrative gig. For the first three seasons, 70 percent of his TV paychecks went straight to the government. While the NBC sitcom took time to find its ratings footing by its third season, it was America's most popular show with an all-Black cast , its stars clicked instantly. Everyone embraced each other and cared about each other.
Even if it stopped right with the pilot, it would have still been a life-changing experience for me.
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Perhaps most crucially for Parsons was the arrival of a new father figure in the form of James Avery, the actor who played Uncle Phil. My dad was not a typical dad, and James was," she says.
He was great. But in , after six seasons and episodes, NBC cancelled Fresh Prince and the close-knit cast went their separate ways. It took time for Parsons' new reality to set in.
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Virtually her entire adulthood had been spent cloaked in the comforting monotony of studio audience laughs and craft services lunches. Now, she found herself in a daze, and it took a run-in with her former junior-high friend Lenny Kravitz—whose mom had been a sitcom star on The Jeffersons —to shake her out of it. I was kind of tap dancing as fast as I could and not paying attention to the fact that it was a struggle.
Meanwhile, substantial roles for women of color in the 90s were few and far between. During seasonal breaks on Fresh Prince , Parsons had managed to book films like Major Payne and Class Act but found it difficult to find decent projects even once freed of the hectic schedule of network TV. Parsons carved out her own opportunity in the form of a feminist sitcom called Lush Life that she co-created, produced, and starred in with pal Lori Petty.
But the series premiered to dismal reviews from mostly male critics in September , and after just four episodes aired, Fox pulled the plug.
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Man, I learned so much doing that show," Parsons says. It didn't matter how well we had tested—because our show had tested really well—everything got yanked. Outside of work, Parsons and Petty became regulars at Hollywood's legendary Roxbury nightclub, known for its VIP clientele and celebrity drama. We had gotten so lazy about it.
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It was weird. All that shine was probably wearing off a little bit.
You go expecting that same feeling, and then after a while, it's kind of like, why are we here? Her cross-country move also led her to her now-husband, filmmaker Alexandre Rockwell, whom she met at a mutual friend's restaurant opening. They married in , and welcomed a daughter named Lana that same year. Their son, Nico, followed in I'd find myself dropping the ball a lot.
Parsons began focusing on writing, and in founded the non-profit organization Sweet Blackberry , aimed at educating children about little-known parts of African American history. The idea had been simmering for years, ever since her librarian mom had first brought stories like that of Henry "Box" Brown—a slave who literally mailed himself to freedom—to her attention.
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How do I supplement her education as a parent? Fourteen years later, Sweet Blackberry has grown from a passion project into a thriving organization with a series of animated short films available on DVD and Netflix narrated by the likes of Alfre Woodard, Chris Rock, and Queen Latifah. We also use this information to show you ads for similar films you may like in the future.
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