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Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps

A New Form of Representation or Depictions as Usual?


Adria Y. Goldman and Damion Waymer

Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps explores representations of Black women in one of the most powerful, popular forms of reality television – the docusoap. Viewers, critics, and researchers have taken issue with what they consider to be unflattering, one-dimensional representations. This book discusses images of Black women in reality television during the 2011 viewing year, when much criticism arose. These findings provide a context for a more recent examination of reality television portrayals during 2014, following many reality stars’ promises to offer new representations. The authors discuss the types of images shown, potential readings of such portrayals, and the implication of these reality television docusoap presentations. The book will be useful for courses examining topics such as popular culture; mass media and society; women’s studies; race and media; sex and gender; media studies; African American issues in mass communication; and gender, race and representation, as well as other graduate-level classes.
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Chapter 2. Docu-Soaping Black Women




Although there are several genres of reality television—each powerful in its own right—we focus on docusoaps because of their mass appeal. As discussed in the introduction, the docusoap is the most powerful form of reality television (Biressi & Nunn, 2005). Because of its format—similar to a documentary and soap opera and with a recurring cast—audience members are often invested in the docusoap characters’ storylines. This format with stories about Black women may have an especially powerful influence on the construction of reality and identity.

Our analysis takes place over two distinct time periods: the 2011 and 2014 viewing seasons. The year 2011–2012 is an important time for analysis because it was directly before the major Basketball Wives fallout. To reiterate here, there was an online petition calling for greater accountability of the representations of Black women depicted on the show. During the reunion special for Season 4, some of the cast members issued apologies for their behaviors (Huff Post TV, 2012). Moreover, in a summer 2013 issue of Upscale magazine, Shaunie (executive producer of Basketball Wives) discussed the upcoming fifth season. The women vowed to provide better representations on the show in what turned out to be the final season. From this incident, we know that negative images of Black women can be found in docusoaps. We hope to dig ← 37 | 38 → deeper and add further complexity to this discussion. Thus, one question we seek...

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