Bad Girls Club


by Jada Akoto
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 Black life.
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, and condemnation.
Love Island
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.


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?


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 to do.
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, 224).
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, Accessed 29 Nov. 2021.

DeFrantz, Thomas F. "I Am Black." Theater, vol. 47, no. 2, 2017, pp. 9–21.,—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,—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,—us/2021/11/10598551/black-women-contestants-reality—tv?—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.