Yesha Callahan

The Formulaic Script Of Race & Reality TV


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.

  1. April 9, 2014 - Reply

    Where’s the “Like” button so I can like this post?!

  2. April 9, 2014 - Reply

    Correction: Tammy (Tami) was on the 2nd season of The Real World in LA.

    Yes I actually remembered that off the top of my head SMH

  3. April 9, 2014 - Reply

    I’ve always watched these ratchet tv shows as a guilty pleasure but after watching the love and hip NY reunion, i said enough is enough. I watched one by one as each couple had their time on the stage and repeatedly witnessed the husband/baby daddy/boyfriend cuss and plain out disrespect their significant others on the stage. Back to back it was like danm, young ppl are watching this and basically learning that women aint shit- especially black and latina women- and its perfectly acceptable to treat them as such. Joe Budden, Saigon, Peter Gunz and Rich Dollaz, one after the other SMH. How the hell do we expect to be taken seriously if keep ourselves in abusive relationships and act a danm coon on television like the Nenes and Tamis of the world??

  4. April 9, 2014 - Reply

    “I think there’s a real interest in African-American culture overall. It’s an underserved audience.”
    –Hogwash! Tell the truth, you are capitalizing on racial and gender stereotypes and the fact that sex, violence, and drama sell. I’d be more interested to knowing why any self respecting woman would sign up for these types of shows.

    • April 9, 2014 - Reply


      @wwwlillianamecom:disqus Unfortunately, it’s probably because of the money. I’m not sure if it’s true, but the streets were saying that Kenya Moore was on her last dime before she signed up for “RHOA”. Now she’s collecting six figure checks acting out on tv.

      A little bird told me that a lot of “RHOA” is staged for money.

      • April 13, 2014 - Reply


        Yeah, and it’s not just Black women. Peter on Love & Hip Hop NY did it for the money, as did Sonja Morgan on Real housewives, and Chris Crissley. A lot of these people have financial issues that lead them to signing up for these shows.

  5. April 9, 2014 - Reply

    Every black woman on Reality TV is just another version of Amorosa from Donald Trump’s Apprentice Reality Show. She was the first black female reality tv star who America hated.

    Say what you want but it’s a pretty accurate representation of THAT particular black woman and an accurate representation of a few black women who we’ve all unfortunately come in contact with. Whether it’s the post office/store clerk or cashier, the woman with an official title and a little authority, school mate, neighbor, female relative or random encounter. We’ve all met her. To act as if these black women don’t exist or are not a sizable percentage of black women is a rejection of what you’ve seen with your own eyes and heard with your own ears. lol (My guess is it’s about 30%) They’re loud, aggressive, myopic, don’t have a filter and use those characteristics to intimidate and get their way by force.

    • April 9, 2014 - Reply


      @ KIR12: The issue is, you have women like that in all races. I have worked with women like that who were not African American, and they had to almost cut someone’s tires before someone would complain about them.

      People are quick to complain about the attitudes of African American women, but when not African American women have bad attitudes, people pretend that they don’t notice or they give those women the benefit of the doubt.

  6. April 9, 2014 - Reply

    As a black woman, millenial, and a jr. level tv exec for a reality
    production company, I completely agree with your sentiments. One of my
    goals as I get my career off the ground is to be a voice of the
    underrepresented side of our culture.

    We are seeing resurgences
    of things that have always BEEN in our culture (from types of dances,
    hairstyles, music, and everything in between) and we have so many other
    things and people to be proud of, yet all of those positives and the
    ways in which that black community has helped shape today’s society are
    left in the dust, while we put the bad behavior under a microscope and
    on our tv screens. By allowing others to “tell” our stories, we end up
    with copycat shows that harm our self perception and how other groups
    perceive black women. Frankly, I’m tired of it.

    I’ve never been one to support a misguided message about my people and vow to help change the conversation.

    So, rest assured, in the coming years, you will (hopefully) see some
    programming that reflects the broad interests and achievements of our
    culture and not just programming that plays into these preconceived
    stereotypes of our women and men.

  7. April 9, 2014 - Reply

    “I think there’s a real interest in African-American culture overall. It’s an under served audience.”

    Nope. There’s an interest in making money. If you watch closely, there are a lot of fans of these shows of all races. Television stations only care about money.

    If they really cared about “culture”, they would show ALL aspects of culture, including African American engineers, doctors, lawyers, business owners, etc. There would be 10 shows on similar to “The Cosby Show”, “Living Single” or “A Different World”.

    Have you noticed how both television and movie execs continue to ignore the cries of the African American community about stereotypes?

  8. April 10, 2014 - Reply

    Mona Scott? Really? She is the last person I would quote. Bottom-line, she is selling ratchet tv to the highest bidder.

  9. April 10, 2014 - Reply

    Nene is gonna ride this reality gravy train till the wheels fall off. LOL!

  10. April 10, 2014 - Reply

    This is just my opinion but reality television is about pandering to the lowest common denominator.

  11. April 11, 2014 - Reply

    Reality tv is the worst thing to happen to black women since BET.

    There’s nothing realistic about it and what is represented is just pedestrian and demeaning. Grown women fighting, throwing things, acting like children, cursing and backstabbing each other left and right. It’s just sad and adds on to the already horrible perception of black women. Keep in mind, the WORLD sees this garbage and takes it all in, not limited to the U.S.

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