On the now notorious episode of your VH1 series, “Basketball Wives” – of which you executive produce – there was a look of serious concern when your fellow cast mate, and former basketball wife Tami Roman violently slapped another cast mate, Meeka Claxton. As they tussled, yanked weaves, and slung profanities, you stood on the periphery watching. I think I even heard you scream “Stop!” to Tami from a distance, who clearly did not. But your usual concerned face when the usual physical fight breaks out on the now third season of your hit reality series seemingly turned to exhaustion and embarrassment. And I can only hope that I’m right.
‘Basketball Wives’ serves up premium Monday night drama, and admittedly, much to our guilty pleasures. Under the guise of reality, we’ve seen your cast curse each other out, and more recently, oust less popular cast mates like Royce Reed. Drinks have been thrown in faces – a preview of your finale reveals Jennifer Williams taking an alcoholic beverage to the face , but this time, it’s from a man, her soon to be ex-husband, retired NBA player Eric Williams. The abundance of physical abuse is sprinkled with a thin slice of positivity – like you and Tami mediating a disagreement between Jennifer and Evelyn Lozada, Evelyn’s daughter graduating from high school, and in the former season, there was a heartfelt scene showing the cast comforting Jennifer when she experienced a break-down in Spain about her broken marriage. There are more positive examples to cite here, but Shaunie you do realize that the reality series you intended as an opportunity for America to see the women behind NBA powerhouse players or in your words, “What life is really like when you are with a professional athlete — and that sometimes all that glitters isn’t gold,” has turned into an adult showdown of grown women who will slap, kick, and curse out another woman at the drop of a hat.
But you Shaunie, in your artful way, have consistently assumed the posture as the all-knowing, veteran basketball wife, or ‘Queen Bee.’ When drama strikes, your posture is to fly above it – well, except the time you and the gang aggressively confronted cast mate Gloria Govan at a restaurant and even followed her to her car – behavior which you defended despite massive criticism. When a fellow wife needs advice, you’ll pop over to her pad to dish it to her straight up. And ultimately when it comes to matters of the ‘circle,’ like a don of a mob family, you quietly administer access or denial. But Shaunie, you’re no regular personality on VH1’s franchise of African-American women’s reality series, you are the show’s creator, and executive producer. This is precisely why it has been consistently confusing, and frankly annoying, to see you state you hear the feedback on the show’s negative portrayal of Black women, and how you don’t condone the show’s negativity. In a recent letter you wrote to CNN, you explained how your show, among other Black female centered reality series are “uplifting and empowering.”
“I do believe some of the shows featuring African-American women have positive story lines and are not meant to tear black women down. Shows like BET’s “Tiny & Toya” and “Monica: Still Standing,” TVOne’s “LisaRaye: The Real McCoy,” VH1’s “What Chili Wants” and WE TV’s “The Braxtons.” They all have the same core storyline — single, exes of high profile men, trying to raise their children and get their lives back on track. I believe that is positive and when handled properly can be very uplifting and empowering for women going through the same issues.”
Shaunie, I’ve watched every show you named and I have to say, I don’t recall Monica yanking another woman’s weave. I don’t recollect Tamar Braxton slapping one of her sisters intheface.com, and I certainly didn’t remember seeing physical abuse among women on BET’s ‘Tiny & Toya’ – which turned out to be a positive and celebratory show about friendship and sisterhood, despite the series’ earlier criticism. Shaunie, it’s safe to say using the model you mention, you don’t handle the business of ‘Basketball Wives’ properly, because there is nothing uplifting or empowering about your show at all. If you are in the business of generating profit and fame from reality TV, like most of it’s participants, well, then Shaunie, you have succeeded immeasurably. A check is a check, I guess. But do know that the later shows mentioned have achieved considerable ratings without the violence we now regularly experience on your show.
Let me be clear, Shaunie. I respect your hustle. Woman to woman, I think you managed your marriage with now retired NBA player Shaq O”Neal masterfully – despite his reported infidelities. And with your divorce, it is obvious you came out on top. You’re a mother of five children, and even aside from your reality series, you have side businesses like your line of shoes with Chinese Laundry. But what has been difficult for me to digest is how you claim to be aware of your show’s negative representation of Black women – and that you don’t agree with the fights, even on camera – but as the show’s executive producer, you haven’t modified the drama on the series, even in it’s third season. Shaunie, it has become particularly urgent to call-out your efforts to escape responsibility – especially after the past two episodes where we’ve seen the once sporadic and entertaining drama escalate to abusive levels. I mean, how could you green-light Eric throwing a drink in Jennifer’s face? I am certain you have demands from the network to achieve a certain amount of ratings. We get it, in the TV game, there is always someone higher to answer to. But Shaunie, at what cost will you continue to promote the degradation of Black women in America on the small screen? No matter how high you fly above the drama on any given episode, we all know you and the show’s other producers are the ones holding the strings on your obviously scripted reality series.
In the beginning when VH1 first announced the new series, it was dope to learn you were the basketball wife behind it. During basketball games, interviews and even caught on the street by media, you were always poised, fly, and seemingly about your business. I remember when the city of Miami deemed you it’s first lady, you were the original Lala Vazquez. While historically, Black women’s representation in the media has been tampered with, manipulated, and cast aside, it was somewhat hopeful to know that even with a new ‘Housewives’-esque show on VH1, this series would be anchored by a sister who would bring integrity, grace and style to what many considered to be then a trashy network.
I’ll never forget on first season premiere, my girls and I carefully planned our busy New York lives around the show. We gathered in Brooklyn over Thai food, and Riesling, and we were so excited to watch. Now Shaunie, it’s like ugh, I have better things to do with my Monday evening after what I witnessed the past two weeks.
Shaunie, I’m coming to you not only as a Black woman, but as a viewer. Your show is damaging, sloppy, and humiliating to watch. It would behoove you to take a little more responsibility. If not for your viewers, do it for your five children.