VH1’s Sorority Sisters, the network’s latest reality series with an ensemble cast of African-American women, has been embattled in controversy since a trailer for the show leaked in June. That trailer inspired a petition to keep it from airing, which was signed by thousands. Despite the backlash before the show even began, Sorority Sisters debuted in December to an audience of 1.3 million and was the No. 1 nonsports cable program in the time period among women 18-49, according to VH1.
Twitter had a collective meltdown over the show, and advertisers, such as Coca-Cola, Hallmark, State Farm and the NBA, bailed left and right. New calls for boycotts have emerged. Yet weeks later, Sorority Sisters still exists, and VH1 chose to address the controversy surrounding the show on air in an unprecedented “impromptu sit-down” with the cast Monday night.
The Root caught up with one of the show’s most outspoken participants, April McRae, often dubbed “the sane one” or “the smart one” (she’s currently pursuing a doctorate) by viewers. The Atlanta-born-and-bred entrepreneur and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority spoke candidly with The Root about the behind-the-scenes drama, the social media backlash and the price of being (in)famous.
The Root: How did you become a part of the show?
April McRae: I received an email in 2013 looking for women who had pledged sororities and about their lives beyond their college years, how they had continued to give back to the community. I replied immediately. I thought it would be a good opportunity to show my business.
TR: Did you know any of the women on the show before you began taping?
AM: No, I didn’t know any of the ladies until it was close to filming. We met on camera.
TR: When I did Blood, Sweat & Heels, it was “sold” to me as something entirely different from what it became. Was Sorority Sisters presented to you initially as something different from what it actually is?
AM: I was reluctant. I know the branding that VH1 has. But I was convinced that they were rebranding and they wanted to put out more positive shows, and this show would be the start to this new image that VH1 is going to create. This show and Atlanta Exes were going to be the start of rebranding for the African-American community, especially women.
TR: Did you expect any backlash for participating in the show?
AM: I expected a response, but not a backlash, certainly nothing to this degree. Not to the point of boycotted, not to be recommended to be kicked out of my sorority. It’s all unfortunate.
TR: What has the backlash from the show been like for you personally?
AM: Nearly all of [the cast members] have received death threats. I read a message from a woman that said, “Being on the show, you committed suicide. I should help you do it,” or something like that. I’ve had people come to my building. Thankfully, I live in a high-rise with security. It’s been a challenge to go on social media and see threats and comments and derogatory things about me. Some of the people … say they are [black] Greeks. Most are not. But those that are in black Greek-letter organizations should hold themselves to the same standard they hold us to. There’s a lot of hypocrisy going on.
TR: Has anyone from the leadership of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. reached out to you?
AM: The regional director for my area reached out. I spoke to the national office to find out what their position on the show was. I identified myself before they could identify me. They said they were familiar with the show but had no response at that time. They were under the impression that the first petition had silenced the show. I did receive a letter about the show and how they felt about my participation. My lawyer is involved now, so I’d rather not discuss that.
TR: What do you want viewers to know about you that they don’t so far?
AM: I’m a multifaceted person. People see me on reality TV and say, “I can’t believe you did that!” And I’m like, “Let me look at your life and see how dirty your laundry is!” I don’t agitate. I’m everybody’s friend until you put me in a position to be your enemy.
TR: If there is a second season of Sorority Sisters, would you participate?
AM: I would do a season 2. I would want more control over my storyline and the interactions with the other women. I would want to see some of the ratchetness diminished. I would like to see us developing more as women.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.