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Reality TV would never have become the billion-dollar industry it is today without Black women

  • The contribution of Black women to the reality TV genre is often overlooked, according to The Washington Post's Bethonie Butler and Emily Yahr. "They have appeared as some of the genre’s most iconic stars and are the subject of quotes and memes that fuel Internet culture and social media discourse," Butler and Yahr write in a special story delving into Black women's contributions to reality TV. "They have carried shows with powerful story lines and memorable scenes that expose us as a society, which is the whole point of the 'reality' genre. In interviews with more than a dozen Black women who have starred in some of the most famous reality shows, as well as producers, network executives and casting directors, almost none say they regret opening up their lives and revealing their vulnerabilities to millions of viewers. Shows with predominantly Black casts including Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives and Love & Hip Hop have made ensemble shows a thriving subset of the genre as their casts and creators face intense criticism that their White counterparts are often spared. But even with the drama, the fights and the suspiciously edited scenes, reality TV has given many of these women careers, introduced them to romantic partners or helped them achieve financial security — while giving some a platform to make meaningful change...So, after two decades of contributions to the genre and the culture — and an ongoing reckoning around racism in entertainment — it’s time to ask: What does reality TV owe Black women?" As Butler and Yahr point out, Black women have often been portrayed with the “angry Black woman” caricature, from The Apprentice's Omarosa all the way to Rachel Lindsay on The Bachelorette. They point to the “Laquifa” scene from Dance Moms Season 1, when mom Holly Hatcher-Frazier clashed with dance instructor Abby Lee Miller. "The dynamics of the infamous Laquifa scene, as it’s known online, have played out since the dawn of reality TV two decades ago," write Butler and Yahr. "Black women are stereotyped as angry or too sensitive or ill-informed. Then, they’re sidelined and villainized." The trope has persisted on countless reality shows, from Flavor of Love to Love & Hip Hop. “I think Black women risk more than anyone else by being on reality TV. I also think Black women potentially stand to gain more than anybody by being on reality TV, depending on how we choose to use our platforms,” says Eboni K. Williams, who joined Season 13 of Real Housewives of New York to combat the trope. “Black women are the most misunderstood beings in American society. And I think reality TV, for better or for worse, can be a great opportunity to inform what that looks like.”

    TOPICS: The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Basketball Wives, Big Brother, Dance Moms, Love & Hip Hop: New York, The Real Housewives of Potomac, Survivor, Eboni K. Williams , Holly Hatcher-Frazier, Rachel Lindsay, African Americans and TV, Reality TV