(The Root) — By now, surely you've been privy to the many discussions, petitions and open complaining over the image of black women on reality TV. There's been an ongoing discussion about this topic ever since Omarosa Manigault stiletto-heel-clicked into Donald Trump's boardroom for The Apprentice in 2004. Either she, the producers or both milked the Angry Black Woman shtick for all it was worth.
The deafening roar of backlash against reality TV seemed to be at a fevered pitch by the time Flavor Flav, Tiffany "New York" Pollard and the rest of the casts from Flavor of Love (and all its spinoffs) hit the air. But no, there was more ruckus to make over the stereotypes played out by a long list of women who called themselves "wives" — whether they were married or not — and "ladies" trying to navigate hip-hop and love, but not in that order of priority. Between the bullying, bottle throwing and club brawls, it got bad. Really bad.
But maybe the worst of it is over.
On Sunday night, The Real Housewives of Atlanta wrapped its fifth season of Southern belles swilling, side-eyeing and shopping. And, also, working. The show has come a long way from where the series began when most of the wives, "wives" and ex-wives spent most of their days doing little more than lunching and looking pretty. These days RHOA focuses more on the women's business ventures, from selling sex toys to stun guns and taking on Hollywood.
Nene Leakes, the only cast member to be featured in all five RHOA seasons, was once the poster child for bullying, using her slick (and loud) mouth and domineering size to intimidate other cast members (mainly Kim Zolciak, whom she physically confronted). But Leakes emerged this round as the voice of reason (and hilarious snark) in a relatively calm season, during which plenty of catty remarks were hurled and shade was thrown, but rarely the threat of fists.
Season 5 of Basketball Wives holds the promise of more cleaned-up behavior than in previous seasons. Evelyn Lozada, one of the show's biggest troublemakers (and the infamous bottle thrower), appeared to have a "come to Jesus" moment when she appeared on Iyanla, Fix My Life last year and has been pretty quiet ever since. "I'm always going to voice my opinion, but you won't see me acting a fool," Lozada told Nightline last September, shortly after she was assaulted by her then-husband. "I've grown a lot in the last couple months."
Unfortunately, VH1's Love and Hip-Hop hasn't adopted this policy. In February, Executive Producer Mona Scott Young told the Combat Jack radio show, "As far as the physical violence … that is not something that we go after [on the show]. It creates more trouble than it's worth. The legal ramifications, just knowing that someone can be seriously hurt, [creates] liability issues that I don’t want to have."
Yet the fights are filmed and broadcast anyway. In an effort to acknowledge improvement, the latest season of the show did have fewer fights — and less violent ones — than previously, but frankly, even one fight is too many.
Still, I take these positive changes as signs that the discussions, petitions and social media complaints that so many women have about black women on reality TV are not in vain. Maybe the push-back on Love and Hip-Hop isn't enough for producers to have a change of heart — yet; and Married to Medicine, a show about doctors and doctors' wives in Atlanta, in which some of the women are seen fighting in the extended trailer, still aired despite a petition circulated by Howard University medical students. But black women's voices were enough to get Oxygen to pull All My Babies' Mamas, a show about a rapper and his 11 children by 10 women, before it debuted.
By uniting our voices, we're getting results, and reality TV is getting better. Of course, the imagery isn't perfect, but getting closer to an image worth celebrating is progress worth acknowledging.