We may be living in a golden age of science and technology–one marked by speedy vaccine rollouts and 15-minute grocery delivery services–but for some reason, major TV networks are still having trouble screening its potential stars for bigotry before parading them out in front of millions of people’s screens.
The most recent failure to weed out problematic figures came from Bravo, which had no choice but to fire Real Housewives of Salt Lake City cast member Jennie Nguyen on Tuesday after the reality star’s vile and racist social media posts began circulating online last week.
One of Nguyen’s posts decried the call for better police training, accusing Black parents of failing to “teach your kids it’s wrong to loot, steal, set buildings a blaze, block traffic, laser people’s eyes, overturn cars, destroy buildings and attack citizens.” Another said people were “idiots” if they believed there is a systemic issue with policing in America, while claiming there were “hundreds of blacks shot and many killed (including children) by other blacks every week.”
It’s baffling how Bravo didn’t manage to catch these posts, especially because the network didn’t have to search very far back; a majority of them had been shared in 2020, as Nguyen seemed to be offering her commentary on Black Lives Matter protests that were sweeping the nation in response to the police killing of George Floyd.
The posts were so stunningly racially charged, it seemed almost plausible the screenshots had been faked. But Nguyen voluntarily copped to sharing the posts, defending herself by claiming she believed that she was only “speaking out against violence” and has since learned “how offensive and hurtful” her words were.
Nguyen’s weak mea culpa did nothing to quell the growing backlash, which was also coming from her own castmates. So, Bravo fired her and apologized for failing to act swiftly, saying in a statement, “Moving forward, we will work to improve our processes and make better informed and more thoughtful decisions.”
Fans are now intent on holding Bravo to that promise, rallying for the network to finally address the behavior of one of the Real Housewives franchise’s longest-standing and most polarizing stars: Ramona Singer.
To longtime fans, Singer is a central and integral figure of the Bravo world. The 65-year-old has starred on Real Housewives of New York since its premiere in 2008, and she takes pride in being the lone cast member to be a leading housewife throughout the show’s 13 seasons. (Luann de Lesseps has also been a part of the show in every season, but was demoted to “friend” status in Season 6.)
She’s sometimes off-kilter and regularly teased by her co-stars for bragging about having dozens of “good girlfriends,” her never-failing ability to scope out good-looking men to flirt with, and her infamous “crazy eyes.” And fans can always count on Singer as a source of entertainment, blurting out bizarre comments and consistently butting heads with her various co-stars.
But as much as Singer is beloved, even ironically, fans have been rumbling that it might be time for the veteran star to hand over her apple for good as the controversies have started to mount against her, including her flippant behavior during the pandemic, her outdated and tone-deaf remarks, and her insistence that “all lives matter” after fans asked her to voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In October, Singer again caused a stir when she seemed to agree with known anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, who in a since-deleted tweet compared the government rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine to Nazi experimentations on Jewish people during the Holocaust. “So true,” Singer had replied.
All these concerns could spell trouble for Singer, as Bravo still hasn't announced who will be returning for Season 14 following a disastrous season that should have been a celebratory moment for the show with the introduction of RHONY’s first Black housewife, Eboni K. Williams.
As one might expect, some members among this group of privileged, wealthy, white women bristled when Williams, a civil litigation lawyer and TV commentator, challenged their views and attempted to educate them on topics pertaining to white fragility and supremacy. Singer in particular was annoyed, saying she felt that some of these conversations needed to be less “preachy, teachy” and venting after one talk, “Am I supposed to apologize for being white?” And during the disastrous Black Shabbat episode, Singer was a hurricane, turning conversations about Black people’s struggles to herself and complaining about pronouns.
Although well-intentioned on Williams’ part, the reality show felt weighed down by these serious discussions. It also seemed unfair to make Williams shoulder the burden of trying to open some of the women’s eyes to the very real experiences that Black people face, particularly to Singer and de Lesseps—the latter of whom had to apologize in 2018 after she showed up to a Halloween party dressed as Diana Ross, darkening her skin and wearing an outrageously oversized afro.
Unfortunately, the season’s ratings ended up in the gutter, but fans were ready to see the women—particularly Singer and Williams—face off at the Season 13 reunion so they could finally address the issues Singer was able to neatly skirt around during filming.
“I’m looking very much forward to this reunion,” Williams had said. “I think my castmates are, too, because a lot of crap went down this season. And it'll be great, I think, for everybody to be able to express how they feel, how they felt watching it back. I mean, for me as a newbie, I mean, it was a lot.”
But in September, Bravo suddenly called off the reunion—a franchise first—citing scheduling challenges. At the time, the reasoning seemed fishy, and the truth finally came out the following month: The reunion had been canceled after Williams filed a complaint against Singer, who allegedly huffed that “this is why we shouldn’t have Black people on the show” after de Lesseps had kicked Williams out of her Hamptons home following a heated conversation. Williams reportedly filed the complaint after another production member had raised a similar concern.
Bravo ultimately cleared Singer of wrongdoing, and Singer herself denied that she ever made the remark, painting it as a “terrible lie” and saying it's “very disappointing that people still want to slander me.” The network blamed the investigation for eating into scheduling, therefore canceling the reunion.
But Heather Thompson, who has been featured numerous times on the show over the years and was cast as a “friend” in Season 13, told Page Six that she had personally heard Singer make the racially insensitive remark and hinted that Bravo’s investigation was a sham.
“I was there, and I heard Ramona say that and I freaked out,” Thompson said. “Bravo said there was an investigation. To my knowledge, they’ve never offered or required unconscious bias or sensitivity training to the cast or producers on the show ever. I was never asked. Do they know and care about the effects [the show] has? It’s nonsense. They are not interested in people; they are interested in money.”
While it should be noted there has never been any unearthing of racist posts shared by Singer, the women’s corroborating allegation is hefty, and coupled with Singer's previous behavior, it’s not a good look for a franchise trying to clean up its act when it comes to issues of racism and bigotry.
Nguyen’s ousting was hardly the first for the franchise. Real Housewives of Orange County’s Kelly Dodd wasn’t asked to return to the show in 2021 after years of controversy, including past racist comments and her suggestion that COVID-19 was “God's way of thinning the herd.”
And Bravo shut down the entire Dallas series in April 2021 following a low-rated season where cast member Kameron Westcott made a handful of offensive anti-Asian remarks to co-star Tiffany Moon, comparing her to a Thai sex worker and making insulting remarks about cultural Chinese food, saying she’d rather eat dog food.
It’s clear that RHONY needs a major overhaul of cast members and storylines if it has any hope of maintaining viewers’ interest. Whether Singer will be a part of that is another matter entirely.