Reports of racism on the set of The Real Housewives of New York City trickled out two years ago, centering on alleged comments by housewife Ramona Singer that prompted a Bravo investigation and led in part to a franchise overhaul. Eboni K. Williams, the show’s first Black cast member, claims she tried to quit the show during that season. Williams told Vanity Fair, in a broad report on attempts to unionize Bravo stars, that she wanted to leave on November 6, 2020, and had a meeting with production on November 9. In the meeting, she said, producers told her, “Listen, what you’re giving us is exactly what we want. If we wanted a different Black woman, we know how to get them.” One producer, Lisa Shannon, reminded her, “This show is a comedy.” Production denied Williams tried to quit to Vanity Fair.
Williams said RHONY’s issues with racism began before filming, when cast members attended a virtual anti-racism training in which Singer, who’d been on RHONY since its 2008 debut, made a comment referencing the stereotype of absent Black fathers. Singer’s alleged racism continued throughout the season. After one argument with Williams, Singer reportedly said, once Williams had left, “This is why we don’t need Black people on the show … This is going to ruin our show.” (She denied the comment to Vanity Fair.)
The day Williams wanted to quit, Singer had reportedly said she didn’t want to talk about race, before asking Williams about her boyfriend’s race; when Williams noted Singer’s contradiction, Singer reportedly had an outburst. Williams left, but Singer went to do a confessional with Darian Edmonson, a Black producer hired for that season. She said the scene with Williams reminded her of being called a “shiksa,” a Yiddish word for a non-Jew that she said was a “Catholic slur.” When Edmonson asked her what the word meant, Singer allegedly told her, “It’s literally like somebody calling you a n- – – – -.” Singer told Vanity Fair she spoke about being called a shiksa, but “never” said the N-word and “did not compare the the [sic] two experiences.” Williams didn’t find out Singer used the slur until 2021 and then requested meetings with Bravo parent NBCUniversal; the company said it determined Singer used the slur, but a company lawyer minimized it by noting Singer didn’t call Edmonson the slur.
It’s been two years, and Singer just wrapped filming the upcoming fourth season of The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip earlier this year, has guested on Watch What Happens Live, and is set to appear at Bravocon this weekend. Shed Media, the production company behind both RHONY and that season of Ultimate Girls Trip, said “appropriate corrective action was taken” after that RHONY season and before Ultimate Girls Trip.
The Vanity Fair report also revealed an employment-discrimination complaint that former RHONY cast member Leah McSweeney filed earlier this year against Bravo and Shed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, after she filmed the third season of Ultimate Girls Trip. McSweeney was sober after a relapse and said she felt pressured to drink and later had a panic attack, which was aired. An attorney responded that “production spent endless amounts of time accommodating her” on the shoot. The fifth season of Ultimate Girls Trip, shot in Morocco, is reportedly in limbo after Brandi Glanville reportedly kissed and touched fellow cast member Caroline Manzo without consent.
Amid these issues, former RHONY cast member Bethenny Frankel has been calling for a reality stars union, so that they can better advocate for themselves. But even Williams is skeptical. “Fuck Bethenny Frankel,” she told Vanity Fair. “You think I’m going to let some white girl speak for me with my experience with a multibillion-dollar corporation?”