While Black women are clearly underrepresented in films and on prime time comedies and dramas, the same cannot be said of our representation on reality television. The sheer number of reality programs on television today makes it difficult to determine if we are in some way “overrepresented,” however, Black women have been entertaining American households through this genre from its inception and continue to do so today.
But when it comes to the Black women of reality TV, it’s the stereotypes that garner the most attention. The depictions of Black women are narrow and seem to revolve around the same themes including conflict with other Black women, dealing with cheating and disrespectful Black men, and that’s pretty much it.
We’ve seen Black women throw drinks in each other’s faces, jump on the table, shake the table, and pretend to be held back ‘less they shall surely spend the night in jail. And then come the boyfriends / husbands / baby daddies / significant others / crazy exes. They lie, cheat, and also throw beverages. It makes for exciting television, but at what cost? Are these shows, although heavily scripted, presenting some of the realities of Black womanhood, or are they merely repackaging what America thinks of Black women (and men) and pulling an audience by confirming stereotypes? Sadly, I think the latter is closer to the truth.
We’ve gone from Tammy on the second season of The Real World to Tammy translating her renewed popularity on Basketball Wives into her own reality show. And when it comes to being famous for being a “housewife”, there’s no one quite as big as Nene Leakes.
Leakes has parlayed her 15 minutes of fame into a full blown career. She’s taken her larger than life personality from the rented McMansions of Atlanta, to the sets of Glee and The New Normal.
In The Hollywood Reporter’s April 11th issue, the discussion of race and reality TV is brought up. But where the article speaks of the ratings shows like RHOA, Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives receive, it glosses over the fact that not everyone is sitting in the stands cheering for the not-so-positive images of Black people on reality TV.
But of course those, like Mona Scott-Young, who I describe as the Sojourner Truth of the Black people reality TV show movement, who’s pulling in millions, applauds her own efforts.
“It’s opened the doors, and people want to hear what I have on the slate,” says Scott-Young, who has sold to Bravo and has multiple series in development. “I think there’s a real interest in African-American culture overall. It’s an underserved audience.”
There’s no doubting that there’s a market for reality TV, and it’s putting tons of Black people to work, but needless to say, reality TV is going through its own “Tyler Perry Effect”. The unscripted reality shows featuring Black casts, are now following just one formulaic script.