What Real Housewives of New York Gets Wrong About Race and Reality TV

We spoke with sceenwriter and housewives aficionado Kara Brown to uncover why this season feels forced

EntertainmentTV

The Real Housewives of New York is almost unrecognizable. The show that made Ramona, LuAnn, and Sonja household names has swapped trips to the Bezerkshires for conversations on bigotry, racism, and white fragility. For the first time since the Cindy Barshop season, fans were happy the season was laid to rest, even if that meant there would be no reunion. Vulture critic Brian Moylan couldn’t even stomach it. “I mean, this thing was like watching Cindy Barshop on a powerful edible, just lying on the couch snoring and not even giving us a flash of vajazzle to vajazzle things up,” Moylan wrote.

Season 13 shifted tonally with the introduction of the show’s first Black housewife, Eboni K. Williams, a former Fox News Host who has claimed her life’s work includes dismantling racism and the systems which uphold it. Viewers don’t see much of Williams’ personal life this season, but in interviews, we learn she’s recently experienced a breakup, boasts incredible educational credentials, and is searching for her real father. It’s a bit unclear if she was even actually friends with any of these women prior to filming—a detail that Kara Brown, a screenwriter and housewives aficionado, says has been the key to the franchise’s success. “The thing with adding Eboni, this is such an obvious drop-in because you’ve never seen her in the background in any of the parties,” says Brown. “I don’t get as much realness from her. I get ‘I’m on television. I’m with all these white women. There’s things I need to hit. I don’t want to look bad in this sort of way,’” Brown added. “Honestly, I think that probably mirrors the experience of Black people in white workspaces in general.”

“New York in particular, one of the reasons it’s been successful is because these women do have this long history together,” says Brown, who covered Real Housewives extensively during her time at Jezebel. “I think the problem that they’re having now is they’re kind of airdropping in some of these women. They don’t really know them, so the conversations that come up feel a little bit more forced,” she added.

“We’ve seen the one person of color having to explain race to the white people.

Nene and Kim’s 10-year feud is what makes their tit-for-tat on roachgate equal parts entertaining and organic in Real Housewives of Atlanta, for instance. Last year, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills added Garcelle Beauvais to its 10th season, alongside Lisa Rinna, Denise Richards, and other Hollywood-adjacent housewives. It felt natural. “With Garcelle, she’s worked in Hollywood for so long. She knows these people, she knows this world, so her comfort level in it, I think, is a little bit more apparent,” says Brown. But as we’ve seen with New York, when you remove any obvious connection between castmates, production serves viewers a narrative that’s a bit too familiar, in the worst way. “We’ve seen the one person of color having to explain race to the white people. So unless you’re going to make it more interesting, I don’t really want it,” says Brown. “Who’s LuAnn’s Black friend? Let’s see what’s going on with that relationship—it’s one I haven’t seen before.”

Veteran cast member Ramona Singer caught lots of flack for her behavior this season, which ranged from comments like “I get my help wrong” to her refusal to talk about the 2020 election. Though, would viewers really be surprised if Ramona Singer voted for Trump? “This is simple television,” says Brown. “What I want from Ramona is not what I want from Jake Tapper,” she added. (For the record, Singer has not revealed who she voted for.)

“If you want to wade into these issues, it’s going to come with a lot of other repercussions,” says Brown. “If you say, we are going to really draw a line on what people are saying when they’re either on camera or not, that means—again, not everyone is going to make the cut,” she added.

“I think what Bravo did was—like a lot of people—they’re like ‘racism is bad,’” says Brown. “OK, great. So you said that. Now, what’s step two?”

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