Basketball Wives producer Shaunie O’Neal caused a bit of an uproar with a self-penned article for CNN.com where she responded to some of the criticism that has been aimed at the VH1 hit. Where some see nothing more than a circus of thrown drinks, flashy diamonds, and innumerable bleeped out curse words, Shaunie maintains that behind the smokescreen of explosive drama, Basketball Wives is about “a group of women trying to get their lives back on track and figure out who they really are”.
So which is it? Is Basketball Wives a positive show about a group of single women (with strong personalities) simply trying to move on from their past, accept their present, and prepare for their future? Or is it a bunch of socially inappropriate gold diggers with too much time on their hands?
Let’s look at both sides.
Basketball Wives is a successful series that is produced by a black woman and features a cast of wealthy (mostly) black women, some of whom have their own businesses and try their hand at various charity endeavors. While the main selling point of the show seems to be the constantly shifting group dynamics and seeing just how far these women will go, there are other storylines that sneak in and flesh out who exactly these people are and why we should care about them. Basketball Wives deals with more than just catty interpersonal drama; this season alone, we’ve seen issues of motherhood, divorce, and independence explored through the eyes of women that don’t exactly scream vulnerable when you first look at them. No one’s sleeping around, no one’s a horrible person, and no one seems to take the experience too seriously.
However, the fact that there are little stories that pop up during an episode doesn’t mean that they’re always explored that thoroughly, especially since the show’s bread and butter seems to be “put these women in a room together and let ’em go”. When you skew your advertising and show content toward the “trashy”, highly dramatic side of reality television, those positive moments tend to go unnoticed and even when people see them, the negative moments can be all that you take away from an episode. (Plus, it’s not as if the business ventures or emotional breakthroughs that happen on the show draw much internet attention.) Plus, like it or not, the average episode is mostly focused on gossip-y, sometimes liquor-induced interactions between a bunch of grown women who should know better. Due to the previously mentioned status of the show as being pretty unusual in the grand scheme of TV, there’s an extra added pressure in terms of “representing” black women, as the amount of representations we see of black women is pretty minimal, let alone when you look for positive representations.
I’m in the camp that thinks that Basketball Wives gets an unfair rap, but I understand why it gets the criticism that it does. I truly believe that if there were more representations of black women on television, the show wouldn’t receive as much flack as it has since it debuted in April 2010; the reason that some of the Real Housewives incarnations escape racial talk and something like Basketball Wives gets chided for racial representations is that you get to see countless different flavors of Caucasians on television, reality or not. It’s okay if there’s something a little more trashy or over-the-top, as there’s something like The Good Wife or Mad Men to balance things out. With the exception of little watched (but highly respected) Treme, there’s no well-regarded drama with a predominantly black cast and that’s just not acceptable. Put all this together with reality TV’s inherent sensationalism (there’s no way this show even gets greenlit without promise of fireworks) and you have a pretty divisive show in the making.
To me, Basketball Wives is just a silly, stylish reality show that features a lot of (entertaining) fights over pretty insignificant stuff, but that doesn’t mean that that’s all it is. Just like Mob Wives, it’s the quieter moments and the bits of self-reflection that make you care about these women and provide balance to what could be an out-of-control mess of a show in the wrong hands. I hope that in future seasons, the show edges away from being fight-heavy in favor of delving into the issues these women accrue through their brushes with fame, as there’s a positive, uplifting show in here somewhere. It just needs to be let out.