It’s impossible to revisit The Real Housewives of D.C. without examining it within the context of politics and diversity. Filmed on the heels of Obama’s historic election, it was the first of the Housewives franchises to have a full-time cast member of color in a line-up that’s more or less “racially homogenous.” But even back then, they drew criticism for being too white for D.C.
The series also faced the uphill battle of covering politics in a format politicians wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. “Our producers did a really good job of weaving in some politics into our storylines,” says Mary Amons, former cast member and founder of Mary Amons Design. “No politician’s wife could even come close to this.” She added, “They really had to sort of get a mix of people that were bringing a showcase of the goings on of D.C.”
Part of the political weaving included a candid discussion on the city’s marriage and equality bill—a brief, much-needed break from the franchise’s habit of tokenizing the gay community. “I don’t think that was happening on reality television quite yet,” says Amons.
However, there were bound to be some gaffes. Most memorable was cast member Cat Ommanney’s Tyra Banks impersonation, one of several moments that left viewers wondering how comfortable the London transplant was around people of color. “I can be rude, I can be bossy, I can be all kinds of things, but racist? Bullshit.” Ommanney said during the reunion episode, addressing some of her more divisive comments throughout the season.
But it’s hard to imagine a show like Housewives relaunching in D.C. today, in the shadow of our reality tv president. “I’m not sure I could do it under the current administration,” says former cast member Lynda Erkiletian, founder of T•H•E Artist Agency and Executive Director of the James and Paula Coburn Foundation. “I just don’t think I would have been comfortable under this administration being a housewife of D.C.,” Erkiletian added.
“I think the political climate is so polarized at the moment—I don’t think it would have worked,” says Amons. “Especially with this president and a president that has been a reality tv star.” Then again—maybe it’s the perfect time.
In the video above, we chat with Erkiletian and Amons about race and politics in The Real Housewives of D.C.—revisiting the show’s strengths and missteps.