Back to IndieWire

Don’t Stop With ‘Sorority Sisters’ or There Might Be More ‘All My Babies’ Mamas’ (Remember That?)

Don't Stop With 'Sorority Sisters' or There Might Be More 'All My Babies' Mamas' (Remember That?)

In the last 24 hours, my email inbox has been stuffed with messages on supporting the cancellation of VH1’s new series “Sorority Sisters.” While I understand and appreciate the movement, I thought I’d chime in and say that, shows like “Sorority Sisters” have been VH1’s bread and butter for some time now. In fact, the potential riches in creating series that target black women audiences certainly hasn’t been lost on the network. For example, as previously noted on this blog, its top 5 shows in terms of total viewers, from December 2012 to October 2013 were: “Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta,” “T.I. & Tiny,” “Marrying The Game,” “Hit The Floor,” and “Basketball Wives.” And in a late 2013 Bloomberg interview from where I lifted the information, VH1 President Tom Calderone talked specifically about the success of the TLC biopic, which his network aired in the fall of last year, and which became the most watched original movie EVER on VH1! Every single one of the top 5 shows above, are essentially the network’s financial center – all programs targeted at black women audiences, which is even more interesting when you consider that VH1 is not a black TV network. Maybe it should officially become one. While I’m sure each of these series and movies have/had some cross-over reach, I’d argue that black people make up/made up the majority of the audience watching them.

All that to say, quite frankly, a show like “Sorority Sisters” is just another in a long line of VH1 series that paint disreputable, if myopic portraits of black women. You can toss them all in a garbage bin along with the “Real Housewives” franchise, the “Basketball Wives” franchise, the other series in the “Love & Hip-Hop” family, as well as “Preacher’s Wives,” “Preacher’s Daughters,” “Married to Medicine,” “Bye Felicia,” “The Sisterhood,” and on, and on, and on… and on – all spread out across a handful of primarily cable TV channels (VH1, Bravo, WE tv, Lifetime and one or two others), all noted for very limited depictions of black women, but collectively watched by millions of viewers, many who are probably black women as well.

In a conversation with a black woman friend of mine, she admitted that, while she challenges the existence of a series like “Sorority Sisters” because it distorts life in Black Greek letter organizations, she also watches the “Love & Hip-Hop” series (also a VH1 product), believing that it’s not representative of her life specifically. But as I see it, and as I told her, they are all essentially the same damn thing – very similar in their distortions of black womanhood. So you can’t rally against one, while supporting another by watching it. 

You should see my Twitter feed when any of the “Love & Hip-Hop” or “Real Housewives” series is on the air; not that I’m going to *out* anyone. But a lot of you are watching these problematic shows religiously. 

The premier of “Sorority Sisters” was seen by 1.3 million people, with VH1 stating that it was the number one non-sports cable program in its time period among women ages 18 to 49.

“There are currently no plans to change the series and it seems to be connecting with its audience,” the network also said. Meaning, thus far, all efforts to have the program canceled, haven’t deterred VH1.

Quite frankly, I’d love to see every reality TV series (and the children they’ve spawn) gathered and dumped into an incinerator for good! I can’t wait until what I initially hoped was just a phase, to pass – if it ever will. But these shows are very successful for the networks; cheap to make, and attract viewers in bunches, thus advertising dollars. It’s a win for the networks that air them, and who continue to come up with, and pursue new, albeit similar, although, at times, even more controversial ideas, seemingly only to test the tolerance of audiences. 

So you’ve told them that they’ve crossed the line with “Sorority Sisters.” They’ve made note of that, but clearly your voices aren’t loud enough, given VH1’s statement above. But remember the fate that “All My Babies’ Mamas” met, after a groundswell of protest that led Oxygen to eventually yank it from its lineup? That was a wonderful example of what our collective, focused power can do.

Let’s work to wipe every single one of these programs with gross misrepresentations of not only black sorority life, but black women in general, off the air for good, otherwise, expect more tests of your tolerance. 

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , ,