Black Reality TV Panders to Society Biases

Madison Curry in Jordan Peele's "Us," Courtesy Universal Pictures

By: Briana Hicks

Reality TV shows have become binge-worthy in the media, specifically Black reality shows. Networks like VH1 and Bravo, that offer black reality for consumers, are filled with excitement, jaw-dropping moments, drama, and memes for Twitter users. Each clip of the next episode, highlighting the drama to ensue, beckons viewers to tune in for the next episode. While the producers focus on the drama to create an unforgettable season, the accomplishments and positivity in the cast member’s lives are drastically cut out and easily forgotten. 

Real Housewives of Atlanta is just one of many reality shows casting a biased representation of Black women. In the latest season of the series, although all of the women have extremely accomplished businesses, are first-time mothers or awaiting another child to join their family, wives or taking a step towards marriage, that lacks the enticement of alluring drama and explosive arguments. 

Every episode, a cast member is portrayed as a Black, angry, ghetto, petty woman. The never-ending tension tears the group apart and overshadows the #blackgirlmagic within the episodes. Whereas, in reality, shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the family’s success, endeavors, and bond is a staple point of each episode coupled with drama. Instead of drama usually illuminated in every episode just like The Real Housewives of Atlanta, it’s spread throughout the entire season. Kardashians are applauded and praised for their business accomplishments and production lines, yet the businesses of the cast members on Housewives of Atlanta are hardly showcased.

One season, during a reunion taping, two Black castmembers were involved in a physical altercation.

 Even though the two women are now in different spaces of their lives, and are creating a friendship, that moment in time is immortalized in GIFs mass-produced for social media. The escalation of drama, feeding into the basis of reality tv, will always be bigger than anything any of the women on the show achieved. 

In a sense, Black reality shows are similar to blackface minstrel shows. Historically, white people would go see overdramatized theatrical plays of white people in blackface pretending to be stereotypical black men and women. The similarities are established when black reality celebrities are portrayed in a way that reinforces biases. Such as loud, aggressive, and unruly. Resulting in the drama and characterization of black reality shows, specifically Real Housewives of Atlanta becoming the standard for how society expects black women to walk, talk, dress, act, and so much more. With the issue of portrayal stemming from production media and the director’s vision for what viewers see and talk about during the season, it is essentially out of the cast member’s hands. In the end, a cultural cycle is created where stereotypical expectations and biases hang heavy on the shoulders of Black women in America.

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