Bad Girls Club
BLACK REALITIES ON THE WHITE LENS
Black women have been continuously mistreated over the course of recorded history—that is a fact. Libraries are
filled with newspaper clippings of upcoming slave auctions describing captives as "young and fertile house servants"
right next to the selling of livestock. There are medical files of sexual violence by white male doctors under the
name of medical advancement. Social scientific journals describe the "moral depravity" of ghettos in the
metropolitan hubs of the 1920s and 30s, which only hold evidence of being riddled with racial superiority. Together,
I want to think about this historical evidence as constitutive of particular archive practice. These archival
practices regarding Black women continue to be dubious and uphold racial biases, stereotypes, and aggressions that
haunt Black bodies.
Diverse forms of archival media, including television, become vehicles through which Black women are harmed. The
intersection of Black women and the screen is precarious and problematic. We have taken many forms in recorded
visual media: the Jezebel, the Mammy, the Sapphire, the best friend, the ho. Living in what Saidiya Hartman coins as
the "afterlife of slavery," every inch of global culture is touched by the trans-Atlantic slave trade; therefore, it
touches television, and even more specficially, reality television (RTV), as a reproduction of the visual cutlure of
RTV, a new form of contemporary documentation starting in 1992 with MTV's Real World, is a dense and
oversaturated form of media with content that has become, by definition: camp. It has allowed for global masses to
see pockets of others' "realities" which, even in itself, is a debatable argument for the validity of its worthiness
in not only documentation practices, but also popular culture. However, it is undeniable that RTV is a form of
archival practice. The filming of a multimillion dollar family empire (Keeping Up with The Kardashians), is
no different than the recordings of unresearched life in the Antarctic, no matter how low brow the former is deemed.
RTV does not feature established players in the cultural zeitgeist like actors or athletes, at least not in its
origins. They usually focus on people in their own surroundings as opposed to the high production value of sitcoms
and soap operas (Ward and Jefferson-James 34). They were relatively low-budget to film as producers did not have to
pay for big ticket names to draw in an audience-the potential drama that was enough to draw in intrigued eyes. They
often reflected what the majority of society was not only interested in, but also the ideologies of society. This
mirroring only highlights how larger ideas of white supremacy and Black subjugation.
Birth of A Nation
Television and the silver screen, like most things, are inherently white spaces. The first Blockbuster film in
American history, Birth of a Nation, is a testament to that. Til this day, it is regarded as a critical and
seminal to the entire film industry, despite the use of Blackface and adopting the archetype of sexual aggression
and predator behavior onto Black men. Even in contemporary productions, we see modern minstrel shows. Through his
Madea franchise, Tyler Perry has reinforced racial stereotype of Black femininity by using his Black
masculinity, spanning twelve movies, eleven plays, one animated film, and three spinoff television network shows.
The structures of whiteness are not just on the screen, but in the production as well. According to Color of
Change's 2017 study, "Race in the Writer's Room," in 18 major networks in America, 91% of showrunners are white and
80% of showrunners are men. How can we expect Black women to be accurately be represented in television media when
the space constantly excludes us?
RTV seemed like a place that would allow for accurate depictions of Black interior spaces. Early reality shows like
Real World and Made seemingly captured authentic and "real" stories. However, as time went on and the
genre got more popular, the entertainment value became more lucrative than the original intentions. Dating and
competition based reality shows began premiering every month, each with their own "unique" gimmick to draw in a
larger audience than their competitor. Even shows documenting the "everyday life" of average people were losing
credibility for showing faithful depictions of images of their subjects. Whether a show has any basis in reality,
however, does not allow for Black women to evade the harm it can inhabit.
Most of the documentation of Black interior spaces have been written by people from the vantages of the exterior.
Black interiors have always been seen as other because Black people are and have been othered. Even
though we have been excluded from participating and engaging with white structures of living, Black people created
their own interior cultural practices. However, because those practices were not performed by white people, they
were looked down upon."They fail to discern the beauty and they see only the disorder, missing all the ways Black
folks create life and make bare need into an arena of celebration," Hartman pens in Wayward Lives, Beautiful
Experiments (Hartman 5). The ripple effects of colonial slavery has made it so Black people are still
chronicled as if we have always been enslaved. We are degraded in files, bastardized in writings, and dehumanized in
cellphone footage. Then we are constantly consumed, up to interpretation, criticism, assessment, attack, projection,
With RTV, all of this is multiplied. Black women are platformed in whatever respective role they ascribe to on any
show, not as they choose. Each individual show is its own constructed and intentional environment-there are
recurring players, dynamic character arcs, handpicked soundtracks. With mainly white male showrunners and producers
controlling the spaces created and documented, they build off the disgraceful lexicon in which Black women have been
seen as. There cannot be a true capturing of the Black interior because these white producers, editors, sound
mixers, and camera operators all have a hand in the fabricated retelling of Black experiences. Using this now
contrived form of documentation to tell the stories and realities of Black women leaves us vulnerable to be
criticized for realities that are truly not our own.
RTV has become inherently performative with entertainment being the primary goal. Some may argue that these women
are simply performers- playing to the cameras, aware of how they will be perceived and ready to face the
ramifications of their behavior. However, that line of thinking does not eradicate how Black women and their
experiences are documented and received. This leads to non-Black audiences' consumption of these "performances" as
the reality of Blackness and they assume that the performance is the reality. That is an issue. The public sees
Black women as representations of Black women, not as Black women.
In Thomas F. DeFrantz's article, "I am Black," he discusses the nature through which white audiences observe Black
bodies in dance performance, and the medium of theatrical jazz, which can be extended to all forms of performance.
White people speculate what Blackness can mean and represent in performance, but DeFrantz claims that Black people
do not represent anything they could assume. He writes, "the action of black performance is comprehensive; it
doesn't represent something; rather, it is many contradictory things at once. It's not representing itself; it's
doing something, right now (DeFrantz 12)." To write off Black women's roles in RTV as just performative seems to
negate their agency to engage authentically with the camera. Yet, to think that Black women are completely unaware
of the constructed circumstances in which they are embedded into also is patronizing in nature. The nature of
performance and authenticity does not matter in the realm of television because this space operates with the
preconceived notions of what Black femininity is.
KEEP IT REAL
Bad Girl Club (BGC), created by Jonathan Murray (who also co-created Real World, The Simple
Life, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians), placed young women—primarily Black and brown—in a mansion
for three months in a different city each season. The women casted were described as "bad girls" each having over
the top attitudes, unabashed behaviors, and quick tempers. Their average day was waking up in the afternoon,
drinking every hour on the hour, and then going to a club, all with intermittent arguments and fights depending on
the day. These fabricated conditions of living allowed for these women to become rowdy and volatile.
Bad Girls Club
On the fourteenth season of BGC, what is now marked as the downfall of the entire franchise, the world was
introduced to the Clermont twins, Shannade and Shannon. The twins were unanimously unliked by their roomates, but
both developed a level of friendship with one girl, Jelaminah "Jela" Lanier. Note that these three girls are the
only dark skinned Black women on the cast. Tension in the BGC House was always high, but this particular
season holds an important moment in television history. When the Clermont twins and Jela decide to leave their
castmates for a night on the town without the rest of their castmates, they arrive home with most, if not all of
their clothes, shoes, and makeup submerged in dirty water, defiled with condiments, and strewn across the lawn. When
they enter the house they see their roomates lined up to fight them.
The roomates that were left alone were able to cause around $200,000 worth of damage to the personal belongings of
these Black women. It was incredibly irresponsible of the production company, Bunim/Murray Productions, to allow for
their talent's own items to be destroyed by others. "They [cast mates] took their time. At no point did the
producers say this has gone too far," said one of the twins in a hour long YouTube video retelling their entire
experience on the show (Clermont 2020). The same reaction was had for the audience of BGC. It was genuinely
hard for the show's Black female audience to be entertained by this event: the racial optics that were shown of
three Black girls lashing out about their things being destroyed without any intervention while their white roomates
were given free reign to damage private property did not sit well.
In this instance, and many others across the history of RTV, we see Black women disrespected as they would be
outside of the screen. White producers and showrunners do not care about capturing the authenticity of Black women.
We are easily exploited, as we have been our entire existence. There is no care for us in the real world, so how
could the even the resemblance of care be shown in RTV? Also, what is to be said about the Black women who
continually platform themselves on these potentially harmful shows?
I'M A VERY RICH BITCH
Fifteen minutes of fame can attract anyone, regardless of race. The fame is fleeting, but as RTV has developed into
a multimillion dollar subsection of the billion dollar industries of television and streaming services. With the
presence of social media, this generation of reality stars find themselves having more longevity than those who came
before them. Rappers like Cardi B and Dreamdoll were first shown to a mass audience in their respective shows,
Love and Hip Hop: New York and the aforementioned Bad Girls Club. Models Eva Marcille and Winnie
Harlow began their careers by being subjected to crazy fashion-themed challenges in Tyra Banks's America's Next
Top Model. Kenya Moore and Phaedra Parks of Real Housewives of Atlanta ( RHOA) both were able
to launch workout videos based on their self identified "donkey" and "stallion" booties. It seemed as if it never
dawn on Moore or Parks the problematic nature of comparing their bodies to ones of animals (Harris).
Nene Leakes for Ebony Magazine
However, none of these women have been able to capitalize on their own personal brand like the Queen Bee of Reality
TV: Nene Leakes. Leakes who co—starred with Moore and Parks of RHOA may arguably be one of the most
recognizable RTV stars, period. She has branded herself as an expressive and shady woman, ready to give a read at
any unsuspecting housewife or Twitter troll. Because of her affinity towards RTV, Leakes has received up to a one
million dollars for filming one season of RHOA. During her wildly successful run on the show, she began to
solidify herself as something more than just a housewife. She appeared on other reality shows like The Celebrity
Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars, had recurring appearances on network television shows
Glee and The New Normal, and had Broadway debut in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella and the
role of Matron "Mama" Morton in Chicago. Through her exposure as a housewife on RHOA she has been
able to gain an immense amount of not only monetary capital, but social capital as well (Ward).
Obviously we have to note the problematic nature of holding monetary capital as important, but Black women are not
afforded the opportunity to be in a position where they can begin to generate their own wealth based on their
personal brand alone. Once on a highly successful show like Love Island, The Bachelorette, or Too
Hot To Handle, the potential to create capital is abundant (Komonibo). RTV is an avenue to where Black women
can potentially reclaim their own wealth. This in itself should be acknowledged, not because a few women are gaining
mobility in a capitalistic society, but because Black women have been able work against a system that continually
tries to push us out.
This beauty that Black female reality stars are creating lies in the messiness of it all. These women have allowed
themselves to be shown in many unflattering lights, and that is not on them—it is on the producers and story
creators that want the loud altercations and low jabs. These women are gracing our television screens as we all are:
complicated and blunt, ironic and sincere, emotional and apathetic, vulgar and refined, right and wrong—a multitude
of so many things all at once. Black women are constantly held accountable for functioning in spaces and systems
that were not created for them. The significance of Black women in RTV lies in the fact that we will continue to be
in spaces that can actively harm us, but despite it all, we will continue to flourish because thats all we know how
Of course, these women do not evade critique for the choices they make. They have to be aware and held accountable
for their individual blunders, but there is no way to critique the role they play in the representation of Black
women because it does not fall in their hand. This lies on the creators and the consumers of RTV. Again, because of
the lingering effects of slavery, the happenings and events of a Black women's experience cannot be captured in its
purest form. Black women cannot undo this. Producers and showrunners must unlearn harming Black women for the sake
of entertainment. Audiences must unlearn upholding Black women to unattainable standards and critique the systems
that uphold negative notions of Black women. Black women need to be extended grace-grace that overshadows the ever
looming systems of white privilege. Zeba Blay truly puts it best: "Seeing Black girls in popular culture as they
are, for what they are is a more radical, free and human analysis than relying on tropes and stereotypes." (Blay,
RTV is nothing more than a reflection of the systems that uphold a much larger problem with archiving Black women.
There are inherent problems with how Black women are recorded, written, and filmed. These problems, stemming from
the dehumanization of enslaved Black people, are in every corner of our global culture. For Black women there is no
escaping this reality. We walk through and against the world boldy, constantly challenging the notions that are
prescribed to us. That is an experience that cannot be properly documented; in reality television or otherwise.
Real Housewives of Potomac Season Six Reunion
Blay, Zeba. "Free of Cares." Care Free Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture, St. Martin's Griffin, New York, 2021, pp. 212–235.
""HE CLERMONT TWINS BGC 14 TELL ALL." Performance by Shannon Clermont, and Shannade Clermont, Youtube, 29 Sept. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kn2ZRK1BwLA. Accessed 29 Nov. 2021.
DeFrantz, Thomas F. "I Am Black." Theater, vol. 47, no. 2, 2017, pp. 9–21., https://doi.org/10.1215/01610775—3785122.
Hartman, Saidiya V. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Serpent's Tail, 2019.
Hunt, Darnell. "Race in the Writer's Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes The Stories That Shape America."" Color Of Change Hollywood, Color of Change, 8 Dec. 2020, https://hollywood.colorofchange.org/writers—room—report/.
Komonibo, Ineye. "Black Women on Reality Dating Shows Are Rarely Finding Love. Instead, They're Securing the Bag." Why Black Women Still Put Up With Love Reality TV Shows, Refinery29, 4 Nov. 2021, https://www.refinery29.com/en—us/2021/11/10598551/black-women-contestants-reality—tv?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=post&fbclid=IwAR3TCs9t4llZsvABmWJwr5fI9XzoWxfk—5UYxU9_cbYrNBglbfH8—vO—VwA.
Ward, Jervette R., and Latoya Jefferson—James. "Selective Reuptake: Perpetuating Misleading Cultural Identities in the Reality Television World. Real Sister: Stereotypes, Respectability, and Black Women in Reality TV, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ 2015.
Ward, Jervette R., and Terry A. Nelson. "Exploiting and Capitalizing on Unique Black Femininity: An Entrepreneurial Perspective." Real Sister: Stereotypes, Respectability, and Black Women in Reality TV, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 2015.