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Reality TV Grapples With Racism Amid Calls for Change

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  • Several Vanderpump Rules” stars were fired by Bravo for racist behavior, including old tweets, and false criminal accusations against the show’s only black cast member.
  • Dee Nguyen from MTV’s “The Challenge” was fired after making insensitive remarks about Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd.
  • On top of that, Rachel Lindsay, the only black lead in the 40- season history of ABC’s “The Bachelor,” said she will dissociate from the franchise if they do not pledge to make the show more diverse and acknowledge its racism.

Vanderpump Rules Cleans House

As most facets of American culture are beginning to grapple with the racism that permeates them, reality television is no exception. Shows like “Vanderpump Rules” and “The Bachelor” are either ridding themselves of racist cast members or discussing how to prioritize diversity moving forward. 

On Tuesday, Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules” fired four of its stars. Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute, who have been on the show since it began in 2013, were let go after former castmate Faith Stowers said the two called the cops on her, accusing her of being a wanted thief. Two others who just joined the show this season, Max Boyens and Brett Caprioni, were let go after old tweets with racist slurs resurfaced.

Stowers was the only black castmate when the incident happened over two years ago. She recounted the story in a discussion with Candace Renee Rice on Instagram last week. She claimed that Schroeder and Doute saw an article in the Daily Mail about a black woman who was at large, accused of drugging and stealing things from people. 

“They called the cops and said it was me,” she said. 

“It was just funny because they thought it was me because they saw a black woman with a weave so they just assumed it would be me,” she added. 

Stowers said they then called the cops who did not respond, not believing their claim. She initially learned this happened because Schroeder talked about it during a 2018 appearance on the Bitch Bible podcast, recounting the story as though she was a sleuth. 

In the podcast, Schroeder said the woman in the photo had tattoos in the same spot as Stowers. She also claimed that one of Doute’s friends had accused Stowers of stealing her credit card that night and that another “Vanderpump Rules” cast member accused Stowers of stealing his jacket. This prompted them to look through Stower’s Instagram to confirm that she was the girl featured in the article.

“We find a wig, she has a photo with the same wig that she had on because she likes her fucking wigs,” Schroeder said on the podcast. 

“So we’re like, we just solved a fucking crime,” she added. 

Schroeder said that when they called they cops, they dismissed their claim. She added that later down the line, Doute saw Stowers at a club and called the police again. According to Schroeder, the police claimed to know who Stowers was but did not feel the need to respond to Doute’s allegations.

Stowers said she left the show after all of this happened. After telling her story on Instagram, fans put a ton of pressure on Bravo to fire Schroeder and Doute for their behavior. Some claimed that their actions could have gotten Stowers killed because police have a history of disproportionately harming black people. 

The two issued apologies on Instagram. Schroeder said she “did not recognize then the serious ramifications that could have transpired.”

“What I did to Faith was wrong. I apologize and I do not expect forgiveness,” she added. In addition to being fired from the show, she has also been dropped by her agent. 

Doute stated that her actions were not “racially driven,” but she now knows they were irresponsible.

“I am now completely aware of how my privilege blinded me from the reality of law enforcement’s treatment of the black community,” she said. “It was never my intention to add to the injustice and imbalance.”

Boyens and Caprioni have both also apologized for their racist tweets, which included slurs and derogatory remarks about Black and Asian people. 

“I just want to say I’m just really, sincerely sorry. I’m not even…there’s no excuse,” Boyens said during the “Vanderpump Rules” reunion.

Caprioini echoed that statement, saying he was “ashamed” and willing to take responsibility for his actions. Bravo has not indicated what the show plans to do moving forward without four of its cast members. 

The Challenge Star Fired

“Vanderpump Rules” was not the only one letting go of stars accused of racist behavior. MTV’s “The Challenge” will now be moving forward without Dee Nguyen, who made insensitive remarks about Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd. 

When someone criticized her for still posting photos of herself on Instagram, she responded by saying, “People die every fucking day. U don’t know me or what I do.”

On Twitter, she also wrote “Idk why some of u think I’m anti BLM. I’ve been saying that since the day I lost my virginity.” Both of those remarks have since been deleted, but screenshots are still being shared. 

“We strongly condemn systemic racism and stand with those raising their voices against injustice,” the show said in a statement announcing that it would be severing ties with Nguyen. 

Nguyen also apologized in an exclusive story with Us Weekly and said she would take her words back if she could. Her friend and co-star Wes Bergmann also said he is trying to educate her and that she is focusing on her mental wellbeing right now. He claimed she is in a “mental health lodge” to attend daily psychotherapy sessions.

Change Demanded Within Bachelor Franchise

While there have yet to be any similar firings in “The Bachelor” franchise, there is a massive discussion among the fanbase and stars about racism and a lack of diversity on the show. The Bachelor and its spinoffs have become staples for ABC’s primetime slots. In its nearly two decade run, spanning 40 seasons, there has only been one lead of color, Rachel Lindsay. 

Lindsay wrote a blog post demanding that the show address the racism embedded in it. 

“Black people know historically and presently that the show is not formatted for their success,” she wrote. 

“It is a naive expectation to believe that leads will authentically start an interracial relationship for the first time on national television,” she added. “The sad reality is that people of color become placeholders as the token person of color to add some flavor to the second half of the season.”

Lindsay elected to go on the show and take center stage as “The Bachelorette” in hopes that she could be a trailblazer and start change for the show. 

“Well, I am sad to say that after almost four years in this franchise, we still don’t have the diversity that this show needs, and that our audience deserves,” she wrote. 

“If changes are not made on the inside and outside of the franchise, I will dissociate myself from it. I am tired of asking for change and my requests have been ineffective,” Lindsay stated.

While Lindsay’s season finished airing several years ago, alumni from the franchise often come back for segments, specials, finales and reunions. Lindsay has attended several herself, often lending her voice as the show’s only black lead to conversations about the show and its impact.

Lindsay said that if the show wants to really address change, they need to cast leads who are truly interested in dating outside of their race, fix the lack of diversity on the show instead of excusing it, hire more diverse producers, and stop creating problematic storylines for people of color. She also said that the franchise needs to make a statement acknowledging their systemic racism. 

Lindsay is not alone in calling for change. Online, fans are demanding that the franchise start diversifying the cast. One petition calling for “Anti-Racism in the Bachelor Franchise” has over 70,000 signatures. 

“As creators of one of the most popular and influential franchises on television, ABC and Warner Bros. have an opportunity and responsibility to feature Black, Indigenous, People of Color (“BIPOC”) relationships, families, and storylines,” the petition states. “The franchise, and all those who represent it, should reflect and honor the racial diversity of our country–both in front of and behind the camera.”

Other leaders on the show are supporting this movement. Former Bachelor Nick Viall shared the petition on his Twitter, saying that he signed it himself. 

See what others are saying: (Variety) (Deadline) (LA Times)

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N.Y. State Senate Passes Bill Championed by Jay-Z That Would Restrict Use of Rap Lyrics in Court

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A companion bill currently sits in the state’s assembly.


“Rap Music on Trial” Passes Senate

The New York State Senate passed legislation on Tuesday that would curb prosecutors’ ability to cite rap lyrics and other creative works as evidence in legal battles.

Dubbed “Rap Music on Trial,” the bill aims to “enhance the free speech protections of New Yorkers by banning the use of art created by a defendant as evidence against them in a courtroom,” according to a statement from State Sens. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Jamaal Bailey (D-Queens).

“The legislation will protect all artists and content creators, including rappers from having their lyrics wielded against them by prosecutors,” the statement continued. 

Right now, all forms of creative expression, including rap lyrics, can be used as evidence in criminal cases. Rap lyrics, however, are more likely to be weaponized against those who wrote them in trial, experts say. 

The use of rap and hip-hop lyrics in particular is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system,” Bailey said in a statement. 

Hoylman agrees that there is a double standard.

“Nobody thinks Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, or that David Byrne is a psycho killer, but routinely rappers have their lyrics used against them in criminal trials,” he tweeted. 

The bill would not fully ban the use of rap lyrics in court. If made into law, prosecutors would need “clear and convincing proof that there is a literal, factual nexus between creative expression and the facts of the case” in order to use these works as evidence.

Major artists including Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Kelly Rowland, and Robin Thicke previously signed a letter in support of the legislation.

A companion bill currently sits in the New York State Assembly. 

Rap Lyrics in Court

The use of rap lyrics against their artists is not an uncommon tactic. Earlier this month, an indictment charging Young Thug, Gunna, and two dozen others over alleged gang activity and conspiracy to violate racketeering laws used lyrics of the aforementioned artists. 

While the case is in Atlanta and would not be impacted by the New York bill, the use of their lyrics has stirred controversy. In a motion requesting that Gunna be released from jail, his lawyers argued that it was unfair to cite these works.

“It is intensely problematic that the State relies on song lyrics as part of its allegations,” his lawyers said in court documents. “These lyrics are an artist’s creative expression and not a literal recounting of facts and circumstances. Under the State’s theory, any artist with a song referencing violence could find herself the victim of a RICO indictment.”

​​Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis defended the indictment’s use of the lyrics and argued it did not violate the artist’s free speech. 

In the letter signed by numerous recording artists, the authors said this kind of tactic “effectively denies rap music the status of art and, in the process, gives prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom.”

“Rather than acknowledge rap music as a form of artistic expression, police and prosecutors argue that the lyrics should be interpreted literally — in the words of one prosecutor, as ‘autobiographical journals’ — even though the genre is rooted in a long tradition of storytelling that privileges figurative language, is steeped in hyperbole, and employs all of the same poetic devices we find in more traditional works of poetry,” the letter, which was written by Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro and University of Richmond Professor Erik Nielson, said.  

See what others are saying: (Billboard) (Pitchfork) (Complex)

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YouTube Touts MrBeast and Mainstream Appeal in First Upfront Presentation

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According to Nielson, over 230 million people in the United States used the video service in just one month. 


YouTube Presents at Upfronts

During its first Upfront presentation on Tuesday, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said the company said it was joining staple broadcast and entertainment companies “because YouTube is the mainstream.”

“Viewers have more choices than ever about what to watch or where to watch it,” Wojcicki said while speaking at the Imperial Theatre in New York City. “And they continue to use YouTube.”

The company had previously done its Brandcast presentation at the NewFronts. This was the first time its pitch came alongside television competitors during the busy Upfronts season.

Many of YouTube’s primary talking points were highlighted in a company blog post. In its address, it marketed itself not just as the future of media consumption, but as the modern-day leader, too. 

It said that over 135 million people watched YouTube on Connected TVs, representing every age demographic from toddlers to viewers 55-years-old and up. It also cited Nielson data that said YouTube has over 50% of ad-supported streaming watch time on TV screens. 

Nielsen also found that YouTube reached over 230 million people in the United States in just one month. 

YouTube Offers Up Its Talent

MrBeast, one of YouTube’s top creators, attended the presentation. The company boasted that if MrBeast were his own streaming service, he would “would have more subscribers than the next three most popular ad-supported streaming services.” In other words, with 95 million YouTube subscribers, MrBeast is ahead of HBO and HBO Max’s 77 million, Paramount’s 33 million, and Hulu’s 54 million in the United States. 

Or course, subscribing to a YouTube channel is very different from subscribing to a streaming service, as YouTube subscriptions come at no cost. Viewers can subscribe to as many or as few creators as they please for free, while each streaming service has a monthly or annual fee to gain access to its content. 

YouTube didn’t only show off its homegrown talent. Popstar Lizzo also took the stage to sing her praises of the company, along with a few of her biggest hits. 

But the company’s most important appeals came from the strengths it offered to advertisers. It claimed that 2020 Nielson analysis showed that YouTube on average had a 1.2 times greater return on investment than television.

It also announced a frequency optimization tool for advertisers that would allow companies to control how many times viewers see their spots in one week. In its blog post, YouTube said this allows for “more efficient” spending and “a better experience for viewers.”
It touted this optimization as “a solution only YouTube can provide.”

See what others are saying: (Deadline) (TubeFilter) (Variety)

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“Saturday Night Live” Faces Backlash for Sketch Mocking the Johnny Depp Amber Heard Trial

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Many fear that jokes about the case could hurt the everyday domestic abuse survivors that see them.


SNL Mocks Trial

After “Saturday Night Light” parodied the ongoing defamation trial between actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in its cold open this weekend, many are criticizing the show — and media at large — for making a mockery of the case. 

Ever since the trial began in April, there has been an onslaught of TikToks, tweets, videos, and other posts turning the happenings in the courtroom into clickbait content. Most of the posts use Heard as a punchline as the #JusticeForJohnnyDepp narrative prevails online. 

Depp sued Heard for $50 million over a 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post titled “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” While she never mentioned Depp by name, many believed the piece referred to previous abuse allegations she had made about him. Depp, however, alleges that Heard was actually the abuser and concocted the claims to ruin his career. She countersued for $100 million. 

In its most recent episode, “Saturday Night Live” aired a sketch starring Kyle Mooney as Depp, Cecily Strong as the judge, and Aidy Bryant and Heidi Gardner as lawyers in the case. The sketch took place in the courtroom as the involved parties discussed allegations that Heard defecated in her and Depp’s bed. They then watched “video evidence” of house staffers, played by Kenan Thompson, Ego Nwodim, Melissa Villaseñor, and Chris Redd, finding the fecal matter. 

At various points, Strong’s judge said they should continue watching the video “because it’s funny” and she and Mooney’s Depp both said they find the trial “amusing.”

“This trial is for fun,” the judge proclaimed at one point.

Many online did not see the humor in SNL’s parody, arguing that a case involving domestic abuse accusations should not be a punchline. Some said the sketch was “disgusting and desperate.”

“Domestic violence is not a joke. Rape is not a joke,” writer Ella Dawson tweeted. “Abusers using the legal system to continue to terrorize their victims is not a joke. Abusers using accusations of defamation to silence their victims is not a joke.” 

“In twenty years people are going to look back at this trial and all of the media coverage and be disgusted,” Dawson continued. 

You’re free to have absolutely no opinion on the Depp/Heard trial, but thinking it’s ‘for fun’ is for someone with a diseased heart and brain,” Meredith Haggerty, the senior culture editor at Vox, wrote.

Many felt that regardless of how someone feels or who they support in this case, those making fun of Heard are “making a joke of victims everywhere.”

Criticism of Media’s Trial Coverage

Others argued this sketch was part of an overall disturbing trend in the media’s coverage of this case where serious allegations were being played up for laughs. 

The hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp has trended on Twitter several times throughout the trial as fans defend the actor. Many also use it to mock Heard, share clips of her crying, and in some cases, spread misinformation about her courtroom claims. The tag is also popular on TikTok, where it has been viewed over 11 billion times as of Monday morning. 

Many of the videos involve jokes about the case, memes, fan cams, and other content meant to belittle Heard. On TikTok, the tag #AmberTurd has raked in over 1.6 billion views. Some videos involve animated renderings of courtroom videos meant to make Heard look careless or dumb. Others use audio of Heard alleging that Depp hit her along with silly imagery to make those claims look like a farce. Many involve people making fun of the way Heard has cried on the stand.

Experts have told numerous media outlets that by ridiculing Heard, Depp’s supporters are potentially harming abuse victims that may come across these posts. 

“I can’t imagine what this might be doing to someone who may eventually want to seek safety and support,” Ruth M. Glenn, the chief executive officer of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told NBC News. “Whether it’s Amber Heard or Johnny Depp, how dare us make fun and make light of someone who is sharing something very personal — no matter how we feel about that person.”

The trial is being broadcast live so interested parties can watch it unfold in real-time. The viral clips have allowed the case to become a massive entertainment spectacle.

Public discourse of the trial has sorted people into either “Team Depp” or “Team Heard,” and just a quick glance online will show that Depp has so far won a good portion of public favor. Still, no matter how one views the trial, many think jokes at the expense of Heard’s claims are a bridge too far.

“In the commentary, it’s almost as if people are forgetting that this is real life, that this is not a show that we’re all watching,” Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, told USA Today. “Many victims of domestic violence and sexual assault will go into a courtroom at some point and have an experience that is largely outside of their control, in a setting like this.”

“There’s such a strong desire in the public discourse for [Heard] to be the villain, for her to be the example of the fact that there are victims who have ulterior motives, that there are victims who are not telling the full truth,” Palumbo continued. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of folks thinking critically or wanting to understand the nuances of abuse or of unhealthy relationships.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (USA Today) (Rolling Stone)

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