While everyone is focused on the Denise Richards-Brandi Glanville mess, something far more important is happening this season.
When new castmate Garcelle Beauvais stepped into The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills this season, she quietly breezed past the rigid reality TV color line.
For whatever reason, Bravo execs seem to be under the impression that viewers don’t want to see their own interracial friend groups in their lives reflected on TV.
One of the only interracial casts of the franchise* (RHOA) went up in flames after Kim Zolciak denied her microaggressions to other cast members and tearfully claimed that she was the only white woman dumb enough to be in the cast. The implications were clear: ”aggressive” Black women should never mix white women. And it reinforced the distance between people of color and white people.
What’s worse, there’s an obvious hierarchy in the Housewives universe and the often black casts (aka Real Housewives of Atlanta and Real Housewives of Potomac) cycle through women who fit into the narrow “ghetto” mold. Beverly Hills is undeniably the most glamorous of the franchise — collectively the cast is the richest, the international trips are the most over-the-top, and it’s not uncommon for A-list celebrities to make cameos. Bringing on Garcelle was incredibly important because graceful black women were finally given the same glossy veneer as the designer-clad white women on the show.
In an interview with ET, Garcelle made it clear that she was well aware that her presence on the show carried the weight of all the Black women who feel unrepresented. She said,
“I think I felt definite pressure not only to represent but also I wanted to make sure that I was representing me and not representing what people think the idea of a Black woman is. Because I think we have other franchises where, you know, the women are definitely not only outspoken, but it’s different. And I didn’t want to be part of that. I really wanted people to get to know me this season. That was my purpose.”
And so far she’s delivered. By leaning into herself she flaunts diversity within blackness. Her confessionals are incredibly honest and her limited interactions with the cast have been refreshingly real. (It may have been wrong to outright ask, but we all wanted to know where Sutton “Yacht Music” Stracke got all that money).
To me, the most crucial moment of the season was not the Denise-Brandy bombshell — it was a casual lunch between friends. That 5-minute depiction of black female friendship that isn’t toxic like the ones on RHOA and RHOP subtly does far more for a nuanced conversation of race because it isn’t removed from what’s fun about the show.
Unlike Kim, who responded to the pressure of being a token cast member by lashing out, Garcelle is pushing for more reality to seep into the show. She explained,
“I think what needs to happen is that the women have to go a little deeper. I wish somebody had asked me about my experience being a Black woman in Hollywood or a Black mom. I wish we had had those conversations, just because I think we need a little bit of both. We need a little bit of depth and we need a little bit of glamour, we need a little bit of ratchetness, if you will. I wish those conversations were had.”
This season is the best in a while because it juxtaposes shopping sprees with real fights over the ridiculousness of glam squads or Lisa’s pole antics with her daughter’s real struggles over body image.
More importantly, Garcelle hits on the way anti-racism conversations need to become a constant part of daily life. They can’t be reserved for specials that are overtly “about race”. They have to be a part of our everyday lives or we risk making this public reckoning a passing fad. While we might all secretly come for the silly fights and fashion moments, we stay for the depth.
Hopefully, Garcelle’s time on the show continues to ground the show and open up other doors. Garcelle puts it perfectly:
“I’d like to see other diversity too. Maybe a Latina. Maybe an Asian. I think let’s mix it up!”
*Note: Real Housewives of Miami previously featured an interracial cast with mix of Latinas and white women but was swiftly cancelled after three seasons in 2013.
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Ayo is a writer and producer based in Brooklyn, but proudly from the Midwest. When she’s not agonizng over applying to grad school, she is working on her first podcast, I Think I Read This Somewhere