When it comes to the younger generation on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air , all of the kids seemed to fall into pretty standard stereotypes — Will was the jokester, Carlton was the goodie-two-shoes, Ashley was the ingenue-turned-rebel, and Hilary was just a stuck up valley girl — but that wasn't the case. No one was simply that one-dimensional, especially Hilary. Karyn Parsons played Hilary Banks as the family's money-hungry snob, but Hil was actually a lot more down-to-earth and hard-working than she was probably given credit for. Throughout the series, Hilary displayed outstanding family values, desired love above all things (including going shopping), and worked her way up the TV broadcasting ladder until she had her own talk show. Those aren't the makings of a vapid mean girl; those are the makings of an actual role model.
In the pilot, Hilary is introduced by walking into the house and asking Phil for $300 to buy a new hat. That was our earliest indication of exactly how shallow and materialistic she can be, but the show quickly proved there was much more to her than that. Later on in the first season, episode "Homeboy, Sweet Homeboy," Hilary meets Will's friend Tray from Philadelphia (played by Don Cheadle). Even though he's rougher than the guys she's used to, she falls for what she sees inside of him. Right before they part ways she says, "Tre, you've become a part of my spirit that's never been touched before. I feel a oneness with you. Now that you're leaving I just... I have this feeling that life will be empty, hollow, and meaningless."
Those aren't exactly the words of a ditz.
As the show evolved, Hilary's character continued to grow. She faced personal challenges like dropping out of UCLA and the sudden death of her fiancé, all the while remaining focused on her dreams and especially on her family. She may have come across as stuffy, but she certainly wasn't selfish. Above all, Hilary had a good head on her shoulders, and she wasn't afraid to express herself. She always acted as her own person, whereas Will was too busy inflating his own ego and Carlton tried to mimic Will, rather than embracing his true character.
Professionally, Hilary by far was the most accomplished of the Banks and Smith cousins. She started out as a weather reporter on the local news and then landed a nationally-broadcast talk show. Will goes to college, but often takes it as an opportunity to party and meet girls rather than as a serious academic and professional endeavor. Carlton nearly gives up an opportunity to go to Princeton and contemplates a career in bowling, instead. Meanwhile, Ashley has the admirable goal of wanting to go to art school, but Hilary is the one making back all of that money that she spent so liberally over the course of the series.
Speaking of Hilary and family, that's another area where she really shines. After the loss of her fiancé, she considers getting a sperm donor in order to have a family of her own — with or without a man. It's a surprising decision for someone whose parents are quite strict and conservative. But that's not the only time Hilary shows herself to be more open than the audience might assume. For example, Ashley goes to her when she's thinking about having sex for the first time. Both of them grew up in a house where their father pretty much chased out male suitors with a flaming torch. Needless to say, sex talk wasn't easy in the Banks household. Hilary talked to Ashley about her feelings, talked about her first time, and talked about the importance of knowing when you're ready and making the decision for yourself. Hello, progressive female ownership.
Over the course of The Fresh Prince, Hilary went from seeming like a total rich ditz to becoming an independent, career-driven, and emotionally well-rounded adult. Hilary Bankses of the world, keep doing you.
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