It’s the topic everyone has an opinion on. Where people take sides and no one sits on the fence: Does a show like Basketball Wives perpetuate black female stereotypes?
With the finale now over and what’s sure to be a contentious reunion show just a week away, the answer appears obvious. Amidst the chaos of drink throwing, finger waving, and head slapping, it’s easy to look at Basketball Wives and reach a verdict that says the show portrays African American women negatively.
And to a certain extent, that’s a logical conclusion. Most of the black women on Basketball Wives are strong A-type personalities, and the one who’s probably the most level-headed, Shaunie O'Neal, serves as one of the show’s executive producers and is often relegated to mere cameo appearances.
Television stereotypes, though, are based on what we see. But what about what we don’t see?
In my interview with Jennifer Williams, she acknowledged that drama sells, but that what you see on screen is a mere snapshot of her waking life.
“There’s so much more to myself and to all the other girls. We have businesses going on, and I think what you see on the show is just a small fraction of who we are. It seems to be so much drama that you think ‘Oh my God, these girls are so drama-filled.‘ That’s not my everyday life.”
My conversation with Tami Roman was similar, though Tami opted to steer the debate into a bit of a different direction. While she said she’d like to see more positive imagery of black women on Basketball Wives, she believes it’s the viewers who don’t care to watch it.
“[The penultimate episode of Basketball Wives] showed a lot with Evelyn’s daughter graduating and Jennifer trying to start over and get her new life going. And Twitter was flooded with ‘This is so boring,’” Tami told me over the phone last week. “So people want to see those dramatic elements, unfortunately. And for us, we’re caught between a rock and a hard place because the three arguments that I had on Basketball Wives are not me in my entirety. It’s not all that Tami is about.”
Tami told me that the taping of Basketball Wives can last four months, and from all that footage that’s acquired by the network, just ten one hour episodes are created. Is it really shocking, then, that more of the positive, upbeat storylines get left on the cutting room floor?
And let’s be real, here. Given the opportunity to see more screen time of Tami’s mom battling diabetes (which received no airtime this season) or Tami’s violent confrontation with Meeka Claxton in a Rome, Italy night club, which would you choose to watch?
We already know the answer. Viewers have spoken, as Basketball Wives has been such a success for VH1, the network will launch a spin-off featuring Gloria Govan later this month.
Face it, the drama on Basketball Wives is entertaining. You like it. Your friends like it. And your cousin probably pre-ordered an extra-large “non-factor” T-shirt.
Does Basketball Wives perpetuate negative black female stereotypes? Yeah, it probably does, actually. Seeing black women yell at one another and fight like teenagers over everything from tweets to grown men is ultimately petty and embarrassing.
At the same time, we would be foolish to assume that what we see on screen is all there is to see. That there aren’t elements of these women’s lives intentionally omitted to keep us coming back week after week.
And then, of course, there’s you and I the viewer.
If the TV screen was more reflective, it could serve as the perfect mirror. Ultimately, if you’re upset that Basketball Wives perpetuates black female stereotypes, then we really need to have a bigger, more serious discussion. Because you can’t complain about the negative on-screen imagery in Basketball Wives while passively sitting at home with your popcorn watching the trials and tribulations of Jennifer, Royce, Tami and Meeka every week.