Phantasmagoria heads to Baltimore

Halloween isn’t until October 31, but with its haunting and whimsical stories of horror, the critically acclaimed Victorian Horror Troupe Phantasmagoria, is sure to leave you believing that the scariest time of the year might have arrived early.

Phantasmagoria’s “Wickedest Tales of All” will rip into Baltimore’s Theatre Project located at 45 West Preston Street in Baltimore from Thursday July 27 — Sunday July 30, 2017.

Courtesy Photo

The limited engagement marks Phantasmagoria’s return to Theatre Project. The Victorian Horror Troupe wowed audiences and drew sell-out audiences with its first two touring shows including performances in 2016 at Theatre Project.

The evocative troupe of storytellers, dancers and chorus will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat, as they embark on adventures through their most popular tales of terror, horrific folk tales, legends and myths from around the world. Stories include Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” Charles Dickens,’ “A Madman’s Manuscript,” and centuries old ghastly Nursery Rhymes from “Gammer Gurton’s Garland.”

Phantasmagoria’s “Wickedest Tales of All,” was created by John DiDonna, who is also director of the production. The co-directors are Seth Kubersky and Kevin G. Becker. The production also features dance, live music, explosive stage combat, and large-scale puppetry. Caribbean-born actress Kisheera Victrum plays “Fabienne” in the production.

“Fabienne is a voodoo priestess who is on the dark side of the scale,” said Victrum. “You don’t want to cross her. You want to have Fabienne on your side. She is always alert, and is always watching. She is really a fun character to play.”

Victrum attends Valencia College in Orlando, Florida where she is studying acting and production design. She recalled going to see a performance of Phantasmagoria before auditioning for the troupe.

“I was blown away,” recalled Victrum. “I thought the show was outstanding. To be cast in the show is an absolute dream come true. The experience has been amazing. I learn something new every time I am in the room with the directors and performers.”

With the ongoing critically acclaimed success of the past eight years of ongoing original shows, Phantasmagoria’s “Wickedest Tales of All” will feature the “Best Of” the last seven years, in newly approached and re-imagined versions.

“Sometimes the story is horror, but not gory horror,” said Victrum. “It’s more creepy and mystical. Phantasmagoria really has its own style. Audiences can expect to have a really good time at this show.”

The production also features the choreography of Mila Makarova and Serafina Schiano, fight direction by Bill Warriner, and all original music and soundscapes by Les Caulfield and other artists.

“We also break the fourth wall,” said Victrum. “We are like the breath on the back of your neck.”

In addition to Phantasmagoria’s “Wickedest Tales of All” Victrum’s stage credits include playing the role of “Helene” in Sweet Charity, Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago and “Salima” in Valencia College’s production of Ruined.

PHANTASMAGORIA’s “Wickedest Tales of All” features storytelling, dance, live music, explosive stage combat, and large-scale puppetry.

Courtesy Photo

PHANTASMAGORIA’s “Wickedest Tales of All” features storytelling, dance, live music, explosive stage combat, and large-scale puppetry.

“Acting has been the one thing I would do for free,” said Victrum noting she would like to teach one day. “It’s a bonus that I am getting paid for it. I want to be the kind of teacher than can give stage directions, build the set, act, and make costumes. The more hats you wear, the more opportunities you will have in the future.”

“Broadway would also be nice,” added the 22-year-old with a smile.

As a child, Victrum says she loved musicals, and even put on her own shows. “My cousins and I often pretended we were The Cheetah Girls. I never lost or grew out of the desire to always want to perform.”

According to Victrum, a Phantasmagoria comic book along with the next stage production is currently in the works.

“Phantasmagoria 8 ‘Chains of Fire’ is on the horizon,” she said. “We are having auditions, and there are some former Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus performers who want to join us. It’s very exciting.”

The talented actress said she is looking forward to performing in Baltimore. “This will be my first visit to Baltimore,” said Victrum, noting that special thanks goes out to publicist Edie Brown. “I can’t wait. I have a list of places I want to visit when I arrive. Audiences can expect an unforgettable experience.”

Due to some horror elements, the show is not recommended for children under seven. General Admission tickets are $25.00; $20.00 for seniors/military; and $15.00 for students. For tickets or more information, call 410-752-8558 or visit:

Choral concert honors longtime organist

— James Spencer Hammond has always been the kind of person that simply wants to do his job well. Attention has never been high on his list of wants and, those who know him, say it’s difficult to find someone more humble.

So, when officials approached Hammond about a special concert in his honor, it wasn’t much of a surprise that he balked.

“I said, no, no. They really had to twist my arm,” said Hammond, a longtime organist and choir director who will be honored at a choral concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, February 22, 2015.

The concert will be held at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in the Bolton Hill section of Baltimore.

The program will include classical choral works and spirituals featuring the works of African American composers R. Nathaniel Dett, Undine Smith Moore, Wendell Whalum and Robert L. Morris.

The program will also include selections from Johannes Brahm’s “A German Requiem,” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “St. Paul,” as well as works by classical legends Gabriel Faure and Cesar Franck, both French composers.

“I studied music and I love music,” said Hammond, who served as minister of music at Baltimore’s Douglas Memorial Community Church under Rev. Marion Bascom for nearly 40 years.

“This is why I’m doing this, why I accepted this. It’s because of Rev. Bascom because he brought me here way back in the 1959,” Hammond said. “I went to see him when he came down to Florida where I was at the time and he said how would you like to come to Baltimore and work in my church? Because of him, I have such wonderful memories.”

Hammond’s choirs have been widely celebrated, and his men’s choir performed at the White House for President Richard Nixon. They also performed at various other institutions including at the John F. Kennedy Center and at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

“We were able to accomplish a lot and it has always been fun,” he said.

With degrees from Florida A&M and Northwestern Universities, Hammond has also been lauded as an educator, having taught elementary school in the Baltimore City Public School District for 31 years.

Hammond also taught the history of African American music for several years at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

He retired from Douglas Memorial Community Church in 2002, but still conducts a community choir, the Douglas Singers, and he still provides private piano lessons and remains active with the Hymn Society and the Organ Historical Society.

“I have to say that Rev. Bascom is the only way you can get me to accept such an honor that they are doing for me, but I know that it’s going to be enjoyable,” Hammond said.

The performance will include former members of Hammond’s choirs at Douglas Memorial Community Church who will join Brown Memorial’s Chancel Choir in singing the concert’s concluding work, Harry T. Burleigh’s “My Lord, What a Mornin,” which Hammond himself will conduct.

The event also will feature short reminiscences by friends and admirers, and will be followed by a free reception.

“The ending should be great,” he said. “We will sing a piece that Bascom loved so much and it’ll give me great pleasure to conduct it.”

Tickets are $15 for general admission and $5 for students. They can be purchased at the door or at In case of snow, organizers say the show will take place on March 1, 2015.

Stevie Wonder tribute may have been better than Grammys

— It was a big night for one of music’s biggest stars.

“Songs in the Key of Life: An All-Star Grammy Salute” aired Monday on CBS, and some of music’s biggest stars turned it up and out for the legendary Stevie Wonder.

Performers including Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Pharrell, Tony Bennett and The Band Perry paid homage to the singer/songwriter and his immense music catalog during the show, which was taped last week in Los Angeles.

Singer/guitarist Gary Clark Jr. joined Beyonce and Sheeran for medley of Wonder hits that included “Higher Ground.”

Newly engaged Gaga played the piano and performed a spirited version of “I Wish” after sharing that Wonder’s album was the first she ever played on her own as a child.

Singer/songwriter Babyface joined Grande for “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.”

“He’s influenced everyone in music,” Grande told “Entertainment Tonight.”

The “All-Star Grammy Salute” began last year with “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America.” Wonder is launching the second leg of his “Songs in the Key of Life” tour on March 17.


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Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings depth to ‘Beyond The Lights’

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Tenner

Honored this past October with the “Emerging Icon” award from Elle Magazine at the celebration for their 21st annual “Women in Hollywood” issue, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is an actress on the rise.

Earlier this year, she starred in the breakout role of Dido Elizabeth Belle in the title role along-side Tom Wilkinson, Emily Mortimer and Miranda Richardson. Her next starring role is in the contemporary love story Beyond The Lights, which opens in theaters on Friday.

In the cautionary tale, Mbatha-Raw stars as British pop star Noni Jean who is on the verge of superstardom, but breaks down and falls apart under the glaring lights and pressures of her new-found success.

Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball) and set in Los Angeles, Beyond The Lights also stars Nate Parker (Nonstop) as love interest Kaz Nicols, a young police officer who enters Noni’s rarefied world and literally saves her life, and Minnie Driver as her mother and manager Macy Jean who wants to control her life and her rise to pop stardom.

In a recent interview with the Banner, Mbatha-Raw talked about what drew her to the role of Noni.

“You know, I really thought Gina Prince-Bythewood had done an amazing job in illustrating the behind-the-scene elements of the industry; taking the gloss off a glamorous industry,” she said. “We see this woman struggling to find herself and it’s a beautiful love story. I loved the mother-daughter relationship; love that she was a complex character; a child who becomes the breadwinner in the family.”

Mbatha-Raw brings a depth and soulfulness to the role of Noni that may have seemed unlikely in less capable hands. Born in Oxford in the United Kingdom and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Mbatha-Raw always loved acting as a child. Her first professional role was as Celia in a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, followed by roles at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, England. There, she performed in Antony and Cleopatra and played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet opposite Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man).

In preparation for the character of Noni, Gugu trained for six months with Laurieann Gibson, Lady Gaga’s former choreographer, and also worked with vocal coach Debra Byrd. Of working with the choreographer, the actress said, “Laurienann Gibson put me through my paces.”

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Tenner

Gugu drew inspiration for her character from real-life artists such as Rihanna, Prince, Beyoncé and Katy Perry. The actress was steered by Gina Prince-Bythewood to look at actresses Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe.

“Gina directed me toward their bios and the sexualized sex symbol persona of Marilyn Monroe and turning on this person that becomes all that people want to see,” said Mbatha-Raw.

Mbatha-Raw became known to American audiences in 2010 when she starred in the J. J. Abrams TV series Undercovers opposite Boris Kodjoe. A year later, she had a supporting role in the romantic comedy film Larry Crowne starring Tom Hanks, and in 2012 appeared opposite Kiefer Sutherland in the Fox television series, Touch.

In the coming months we’ll see more of Mbatha-Raw. She just wrapped the film The Whole Truth with Renée Zellweger and Keanu Reeves which was directed by Courtney Hunt (Frozen River). In 2015, the actress will appear in Jupiter Ascending with Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis and Eddie Redmayne. She’s also set to star opposite Will Smith in an untitled film about Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist who first discovered extensive brain damage in NFL players.

Mbatha-Raw describes Noni as going through an evolution.

“She’s quite a damaged soul, and going through an emotional journey was challenging,” she commented.

In the end, the role helped Mbatha-Raw better understand herself.

“I feel like I learned things about myself and life and every project I do,” she said. “The message of the film is to be who you are and stay true to your instincts. I learned that’s something that I aspire to, as well as finding your voice.”

Beyond The Lights opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, Nov. 14.

Denzel Washington plays ‘Equalizer’ with signature quiet intensity

Denzel Washington reteams with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua in the action thriller, The Equalizer. Based on the 1985 television show starring British actor Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a middle aged retired intelligence officer with a mysterious past who helps people in trouble, Washington lights up the screen as the modern-day McCall in the film version.

Washington stars as McCall, a store manager working at Home Mart, (a Home Depot-like store), who puts his past as a retired black ops soldier behind him. McCall is now living a simple and quiet life in Boston, albeit with several obsessive-compulsive tendencies. McCall spends his non-working hours reading the great American classics like Moby Dick in the wee hours of the morning at a local coffee shop.


Film Still C/O Sony Pictures

All of that changes when Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who McCall has befriended on his nightly visits to the diner, is hospitalized after being brutally beaten by her pimp, Slavi (David Meunier). Strangely protective of her, Robert can’t sit idly by, and doesn’t. He feels a call to action and ends up killing Slavi, unaware Slavi is a member of the Russian mob.

The film sets up the story slowly and steadily, building up to where you feel the tension bubbling below the surface, ready to explode. And explode it does. McCall’s actions set up a chain of events in which there’s no return. He comes out of his self-imposed retirement recharged and finds his desire to exact punishment against anyone who terrorizes the helpless reawakened.

Denzel commands every scene of The Equalizer with his direct and penetrating gaze, cool smile, steady voice and, of course, his signature stride. He’s having fun in the role, and you want McCall to succeed as avenger in righting the wrongs and teaching the bad guys a lesson.

In a cameo role is Melissa Leo as Susan Plummer, McCall’s former boss. Her presence is immediately felt and she easily goes toe-to-toe with Washington in her all-too-brief scene. Plummer’s husband is played by Bill Pullman.

Beautifully shot in Charlestown and Chelsea, the cinematography is colorful, gritty and striking, painting the Boston skyline and the Zakim Bridge in vivid colors and textures.

Washington, who is also one of the producers on The Equalizer, is a movie star in every sense of the word. You can’t take your eyes off of him, and you can’t help but root for McCall. This is Denzel’s movie, and he pulls you in from the very beginning and leaves you wanting more.

Courtesy of The Bay State Banner

J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise release rousing new anthem

The dynamic and much-celebrated music ensemble J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise has released a powerful new song of joy and inspiration entitled “Bless Me.” The rousing musical conversation with God features a vocal assist from platinum-selling recording artist Donnie McClurkin of “Stand” and “We Fall Down” fame. The digital track is currently available for download exclusively on the iTunes Store and it anchors the Soul Train Award nominated group’s forthcoming live album “I See Victory” (Light Records) that releases to online platforms and to retail stores everywhere on October 28, 2014.

The 17-track set was recorded before an enthusiastic audience of worshippers at J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise’s home church, The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Connecticut. The ambitious collection of songs range from rock-edged tunes such as “Nothing Compares” to traditional, handclapping church songs such as “The Blood Still Works.” Donnie McClurkin, Karen Clark Sheard, Vashawn Mitchell, Jason Nelson and Deon Kipping are among the gospel luminaries showcasing their talents on the brilliant project.

For over a dozen years, Youthful Praise has been one of the most popular contemporary gospel choirs in the USA. Their hit songs such as “After This,” “Lord of All,” “Resting on His Promise” and “Incredible God, Incredible Praise” have served as the soundtrack to the lives of scores of Millennial-age churchgoers. The group has appeared on national television programs such as “Good Morning America,” BET’s “Celebration of Gospel,” “Conan O’Brien,” BET’s “Lift Every Voice,” “Lady Gaga & The Muppets Holliday Spectacular” and BET’s “Sunday Best.”

The 2014 American Black Film Festival

— In 18 years, the American Black Film Festival has migrated from Acapulco, Mexico, to Los Angeles to Miami and now New York City. The locations have varied; the mission to bring African heritage films to audiences has not.

The 2014 festival started with the Big Apple’s premier of Think Like a Man Too, and ended with the first screening of the new Spike Lee horror movie Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. In between, the festival hosted a bevy of panels, acting boot camps, master classes and workshops at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street. The screenings took place at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Theater on West 23rd Street.

Blackbird ()–This well-intentioned coming-of-age gay Black movie is set in rural Mississippi and burdened by an over-dramatic treatment. The sappy all-over-the-place script (Rikki Beadle Blair, Patrick-Ian Polk), with stilted dialogue and preposterous dramatic moments, is an impediment. Its unsettling mixture of religion and gay pride, certainly a new brew, never rings true. Oscar-winner Mo’Nique plays an angst-ridden mother and Isaiah Washington is an understanding pro-gay dad; neither is believable. The savvy young cast (Julian Walker, Kevin Allesee, Gary LeRoi Gray, Torrey Laamar, Nikki Jane) will go on to bigger and better projects; they are the film’s saving grace.

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (*1/2)—Spike Lee, the old guard of Black indie filmmaking, gets his mojo back with this classy, urbane vampire art film that is a beauty to behold (cinematography, art direction, set design, costumes) and a joy to listen to (gospel, jazz, soul, pop). Dr. Hess Greene (Stephen Tyrone Williams) is a blood-addicted rich man who alternates his time between a swank New York apartment and a tony house in Martha’s Vineyard. He’s smitten with the tough-talking British wife (Zaraah Abrahams) of a victim, and the two are obsessed with hemoglobin. Kudos to the very heady, tense and sensual script: edgy dialogue, unique characters, rampant sexuality, romance and an unfathomable storyline. If the film gets cut by 5-15 minutes it would be Lee’s most gripping and evocative – ever.

Hard Time Bus () – The cast in this soap-operaish British melodrama must be moonlighting from a Shakespearean theater company. They have perfect diction, laser-focus and great acting chops, which are wasted in a meandering relationship film. Mark (Neil Reidman) is having troubles with his lady-friend Denise (Naomi Ryan), whom he would like to marry. He gets caught up in his friends’ lovers quarrels, misunderstandings and other far-fetched machinations – veering off his own course. The script (Owen Mowatt) is very talky with long, drawn-out scenes that are far more suited for a theater piece than a movie. Dean Charles, in his directing debut, displays a promising talent.

Think Like A Man Too (*) – This sequel takes an assorted gaggle of friends to Las Vegas to help a couple (Terrence Jenkins, Regina Hall) with a meddling mother (Jennifer Lewis) get married. The best man, played by the increasingly manic and thoroughly likable Kevin Hart, leads the young men on a myriad of wild bachelor party escapades. The females’ bachelorette festivities are equally roguish. The director (Tim Story) uses a very staccato/MTVish editing style to give the film a rapid-fire pace that is daunting at times. However, there is a method to his rushed, jumpy directing style, which comes to fruition during a strip club melee that is totally chaotic and hysterical. The overall feel is hilarious, romantic and sweet.

Una Vida () – In New Orleans, a neuroscientist (Joaquim de Almeida), haunted by images of his mother, a victim of Alzheimer’s, transfers his love for her to an old street singer (Aunjanue Ellis, Men of Honor) who suffers from the same disease. Viewing the neighborhoods in the Big Easy is far more engaging than the storyline of this heavy-handed, snail-paced message movie. The beautiful cinematography keeps you engaged when the script lets you down. Bill Cobbs, Ruth Negga (World War Z) and Andre Royo (The Wire) also star, but Ellis steals all the scenes.

With ABFF’s registration at a midtown hotel, panels on 18th Street and screenings on 23rd Street, the disparate locations never seemed to give the festival a cohesive feel – a sense of community. The traveling back-and-forth must have been a chore for out-of-town visitors (For convenience sake, L.A.’s Pan African Film Festival takes place entirely at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza). Time will tell if the American Black Film Festival’s relocation to New York, without a central venue, was a wise decision.

For more information about the ABFF and for a full list of winners, go to

Black Music: Often Appropriated Can’t Be Duplicated

2013 could be considered the year where black music was not only heavily appropriated, but also appropriated to the point of no return. Miley Cyrus proved to be the Queen of Appropriation when she shocked the world with her gold grills and twerking, or what she thought was twerking, in the video for her song, “We Can’t Stop”. From there we entered the world of Justin Timberlake, fresh off a musical hiatus, along with Robin Thicke, both of whom have been dubbed the new “blue eyed soul”.

But Cyrus, Thicke and Timberlake aren’t doing anything new. In the words of Paul Mooney, “Everybody wants to be a n word, but nobody wants to be a n word”.

Appropriation in music and pop culture started way before any of these stars were even born, or probably their parents.

The music from the 1940s and 1950s that was done by African Americans, has basically laid the ground work for today’s music. Before Rock and Roll, there was the delta blues sound that eventually was called rhythm and blues. Some of the biggest appropriators of black music back in the day were Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

The unfortunate facts that remain, is that although most of these artists, besides Jerry Lee Lewis, made a fortune off the sounds of blackness, the originators rarely saw a cent. In order for record labels to make money and market R&B to white audiences, companies used a practice called “mainlining”. Record labels hired white artists to take songs that were performed by black artists and “clean them up”. The lyrics were rewritten to make them suitable for radio and the instrumentals were reworked. This mixing of rhythm and blues from black people and country music from white people was eventually known as rock ‘n’ roll.

One of the first big hits from mainlining was “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. In 1954, Jesse Stone wrote the song under his alias Charles E. Calhoun, and it was then sung by “Big” Joe Turner. Although Turner’s song hit the rhythm and blues charts back in June 1954, it wasn’t until the following month when the Comets recorded their version and released it in August. That version was on the top 40 charts for twenty-seven weeks. No one heard a peep from Turner’s version again.

Whether it’s mainlining or appropriation, regardless of the decade, there’s no mistaking that black music and our culture is something to be in awe of.

One of 2013’s biggest R&B hits came from Robin Thicke and his song “Blurred Lines”. At first listen, many people might have thought the music sounded familiar, but music aficionados quickly recognized a sample from Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” and Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways” in the song. Instead of fessing up to using the samples, Robin Thicke, T.I and Pharrell Williams filed a lawsuit against Gaye’s estate, before they had a chance to file one against them. The lawsuit claimed that there were no similarities between Blurred Lines and the other songs “other than commonplace musical elements.” The trio sought a declaration that the “Gayes do not have an interest in the copyright to the composition ‘Got To Give It Up’ sufficient to confer standing on them to pursue claims of infringement of that composition.”

The Gaye family followed up with a countersuit against Thicke, alleging that he not only infringed upon “Got to Give it Up,” but also committed copyright infringement on “After the Dance,” for the title track from his 2011 album, Love After War. The siblings claimed that Thicke practically admitted to copying “Got to Give it Up” in interviews with GQ and Billboard. In interviews with the publications, Thicke admitted to getting “inspiration” from Marvin Gaye.

Although many present day artists get “inspiration” from black artists from the past, the thin line of appropriating and appreciation is something that has been repeatedly crossed.

How Are Reality TV Shows Affecting Society’s Perception Of Black Women?

While Black women are clearly underrepresented in films and on prime time comedies and dramas, the same cannot be said of our representation on reality television. The sheer number of reality programs on television today makes it difficult to determine if we are in some way “overrepresented,” however, Black women have been entertaining American households through this genre from its inception and continue to do so today. We’ve gone from Tammy on the pilot season of The Real World to Tammy translating her renewed popularity on Basketball Wives into her own reality show.


Yesha Callahan

Reality TV shows

Some of the shows that focus primarily on Black women are The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop and Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, The New Atlanta, and Married to Medicine. There are also shows like Black Ink Crew, Thicker Than Water, and Preachers of L.A. in which Black women figure prominently. This list is in no way meant to be exhaustive and does not include the many reality shows that rely on Black women for a great deal of their entertainment value, ranging from the now defunct Cheaters to Bad Girls Club.

So, why are Black women so entertaining in “reality” but thought to be unable to garner an audience as actors? Reality shows have been around for decades but began to multiply exponentially over the last decade. They seem to be a good way to get ratings without having to pay actors. Makes sense. But movies and television dramas and sitcoms are still being made, actors are still getting paid, just not Black actors.

Black women on reality television are not necessarily monolithic. There are accomplished career women, stay-at-home mothers, musicians who’ve had varying levels of commercial success, and even actors (who were actually actors before joining reality show casts). The depictions of Black women, on the other hand, are narrow and seem to revolve around the same themes including conflict with other Black women, dealing with cheating and disrespectful Black men, and that’s pretty much it. We see Black women throw drinks in each other’s faces, jump on the table, shake the table, and pretend to be held back ‘less they shall surely spend the night in jail. And then come the boyfriends / husbands /baby daddies / significant others / crazy exes. They lie, cheat, and also throw beverages. It makes for exciting television, but at what cost? Are these shows, although heavily scripted, presenting some of the realities of Black womanhood, or are they merely repackaging what America thinks of Black women (and men) and pulling an audience by confirming stereotypes? Sadly, I think the latter is closer to the truth.

I would like, however, to do something with which some or many will surely disagree, and that is to applaud The Real Housewives of Atlanta. While that show did feature physical fighting, bullying, and cattiness between Black women (and Kim), they seem to have responded to calls that the violence and venom cease. While there is still venom and cattiness and a host of other problems, they seem to have dispatched with the violence and also seem to be the only show that presents examples of healthy bonding and friendships between Black women that do not revolve around gossip or back biting. While I recognize that this is a relatively low bar, I also recognize that reality television isn’t going anywhere. As long as the other shows continue on a downward trajectory, I will encourage The Real Housewives of Atlanta to continue to step it up.