Even though at one point it was one of the few Black shows on television, I never was a big "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" fan. I think it was because the first few episodes turned me off due to the fact it was so painful to watch one of my favorite lyrically gifted rappers reduced to almost a buffoon. It turned out that Will Smith was the one laughing all the way to the bank. An evil genius of sorts, if you will.
Everyone knew that Smith would eventually make the transition to the big screen. We just no idea he would play entirely against typecast with his breakout role as Paul (if that was his real name) in "Six Degrees of Separation". A cat just doesn't have a "breakout" role on their first attempt. They're not supposed to be that good having never been in movies before.
This would have came out at the height of my pro-Black nationalism phase. I wanted more than anything to see my people hit it big in the movies. Naturally, I also wanted for it to happen while they were portraying positive role models. Smith's Paul was pretty far from that. Still, there was no denying the fact that he was absolutely amazing as the homosexual con-man.
"Six Degrees" is another one of those films that really focuses on relationships. What Paul really is is a hustler that penetrates the lives of people who had previously been disconnected with not only themselves but their own families. His ties with people's children causes the families to re-evaluate their relationships with one another as they backpedal trying to understand how they could have succumbed to Paul's guiling ways in the first place.
One of the subtle things "Six Degrees" did was provide the backdrop (even if by name only) for the campy "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game that helped to revitalize Bacon's career. It lives off the premise that anyone can be connected to any other person by at least six other people or six degrees. You may have to really stretch to make it happen but it is true.
Although Smith may have been passed over for the Oscar for his portrayal in "Ali", this was the role where he really showed he was deserving. He should have pulled off the Jennifer Hudson "upset" before Hudson did. As much as I still enjoy Smith's action work, this will remain one of my all-time favorite dramas all due in part to the realism he brought to that character.