Has Reality TV Become Black Women’s Enemy?

From ''The Real Housewives of Atlanta'' to ''What Chilli Wants,'' these days, reality TV is fixated on black women. But only when we act the fool.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Maybe not, but as Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP has pointed out, seeing actor Dennis Haysbert as president of the United States on the successful Fox TV series, 24, may have helped to set the psychological stage for Obama’s victory.

”I wouldn’t want to say that what you’re seeing on [The] Real Housewives of Atlanta is emblematic of everything that black women are going through,” said Andy Cohen, senior vice president for original programming and development at Bravo. ”But when you put four women under the microscope, then you’re somehow portraying issues that a whole lot of black women can relate to. It’s fun,” he added, emphasizing that the show isn’t meant to be taken seriously. ”It puts a smile on my face.”

Last fall, I spent time speaking with a number of network executives. They all assured me that things might be changing for black women characters in the new season. Story lines on VH1 and BET would emphasize less petty conflict and more of the daily struggles of black women: being mothers, looking for romance, healing family relationships and striving for lasting careers.

”It’s a new brand initiative,” BET’s Brookins told me. ”We have a new president of programming [Loretha Jones came on board in late 2008] and half of us are mothers. So … the shift is coming from a very honest place. These are shows that we believe and want to see.”

Similarly, new VH1 shows like Let’s Talk About Pep, starring Sandra Denton of Salt-n-Pepa fame and What Chilli Wants, featuring Rozonda ”Chilli” Thomas from the R&B vocalist group, TLC, aren’t about competitions, or a group of people living together in a house under pressure, said Jeff Olde, executive vice president of original programming and production for VH1.

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