Real Housewives reunions are a reality-television ritual. Cast members put on gaudy evening wear, gather for hours on an elaborately decorated set and submit to probing questions from ringmaster Andy Cohen. Petty sniping, hypocritical finger-pointing and melodramatic storm-offs are all standard – even expected. Productive conversations about racial justice and white privilege , less so. Yet the first hour of this season’s The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City reunion blended the usual absurdity (eg. a heated debate over regifted golf balls) with a lengthy discussion of how the housewives had or hadn’t engaged in hurtful stereotypes and cultural appropriation. The episode began with a disclaimer noting that it was filmed before social media posts by cast member Jennie Nguyen – who was born in Vietnam and grew up in Long Beach, California – became public and resulted in her departure from the series after a single season. The title card didn’t elaborate about the nature of the posts: Nguyen was fired in January after offensive memes she shared on Facebook in 2020 resurfaced online. HBO’s ‘The White Lotus’ pokes fun at white privilege At one point, Cohen asked Nguyen about racially insensitive remarks directed at her by Mary Cosby, a black cast member who had failed to show up at the reunion. “I’m a minority, she’s a minority,” said Nguyen. “We’re supposed to support each other.” To anyone aware of the backstory, the irony of Nguyen’s comment was as hard to miss as the royal blue diamantés on her gown. Coming on the heels of similar controversies on The Real Housewives of New York and The Real Housewives of Dallas , predominantly white shows that added women of colour last year, the messiness on The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City points to a central crisis within the Real Housewives universe: can shows predicated on entitlement and endless pot-stirring evolve into entertainment that is over-the-top and meaningfully inclusive at the same time? “It feels too little too late. What they’re trying to do is wedge integration into a franchise where it has not been required,” says Kristen Warner, an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama in the US. “It feels dishonest, it feels disingenuous and it feels like it’s set up to fail.” The network declined to comment for this story. With few exceptions, editions of Real Housewives , first launched in 2006, have largely been segregated: Atlanta and Potomac were predominantly black and biracial, while Orange County , New York , New Jersey , Dallas and Beverly Hills were overwhelmingly white, despite the diversity of the communities in which they are set. ‘Americans will watch stuff with subtitles’: diversity grows in film, TV Then Garcelle Beauvais was cast on Beverly Hills , making her the first black woman to star in the series. She was joined the following season by Crystal Kung Minkoff , Beverly Hills ’ first Asian-American cast member. Both women have shared uncomfortable but productive conversations about race with their white co-stars, as when Kung Minkoff explained to fellow housewife Sutton Stracke the problem with the adage “I don’t see colour”. “That was a conflamma [conflict and drama] that I learned a lesson from – seriously,” Stracke told the Los Angeles Times last year. “As a white woman, this is how we do, and this is how we can change.” (Some viewers were more hostile, particularly to Kung Minkoff, who says she received a slew of hateful messages on social media.) Dallas and New York have been much more turbulent. Eboni Williams, the first black woman on New York , and Tiffany Moon, the first Asian-American woman on Dallas , both faced ignorant, defensive and even hostile behaviour from their white co-stars and say they felt forced to provide lessons in cultural sensitivity. An accomplished anaesthesiologist, the 37-year-old Moon, who immigrated to the United States from China as a child, joined the show in early 2020, eager to boost Asian representation on-screen. Mostly, though, she hoped The Real Housewives would offer her a chance to let loose after years focused on family and career. She’s a Real Housewives star and speaking up about anti-Asian hate “You’re promised red carpet events, fabulous parties, exotic holidays and new friends. I thought I was going to have fun and drink wine,” she says. “I did not think I was joining a show to be the token Asian, to be an anti-racist educator to my cast members and the audience … and we went to Oklahoma in an RV to go Bigfoot-hunting. I was sold a false bill of goods, ma’am.” Moon was stepping into an atmosphere already rife with tension following the departure of a cast member who had called another woman a “chirpy Mexican”. Fellow housewife Brandi Redmond was also in hot water for a recently resurfaced video of her doing an offensive impression of an Asian person. While filming her first episode, Moon says producers prompted her to confront Redmond about the video. “I didn’t want to talk to Brandi. I was dreading it,” Moon says. “But I’m a rule follower. And I was new to reality television.” The experience “gave me an icky feeling”, she adds. The season’s biggest dispute arose when Moon encouraged her co-stars to try chicken feet at a dim sum brunch. Kameron Westcott, a pink-loving blonde, reacted in disgust. She brought the incident up repeatedly over the course of the season, unfavourably compared the dish to her line of dog biscuits in an Instagram post, and dismissed Moon’s insistence that Chinese people would “take offence” to such slights. Get ready for the real Crazy Rich Asians on Netflix’s Bling Empire At the reunion, Westcott rehashed the subject once more. Moon grew so distressed her nose started to bleed on camera. “My blood pressure was so high, I think a blood vessel in my nose just burst,” she says. In August, US cable channel Bravo announced it was pausing production of Dallas indefinitely, with no plans to film in 2022. (Bravo rarely cancels Housewives franchises outright.) In response to a request for comment, a lawyer for the Westcotts wrote to the Los Angeles Times newspaper, claiming that “Ms Moon has found a way to distort the facts in a way that casts her as a victim and everyone else as evil, bigoted racists … the fact that Ms Moon has spun up a cottage industry of faux racist outrage simply because Ms Westcott refused to eat a chicken foot is appalling.” When producers at The Real Housewives of New York City came calling two years ago, Eboni Williams already worked as a lawyer and broadcast journalist. “It felt like an enormous opportunity to be the first black woman on The Real Housewives of New York City ,” Williams says, “and create space for black womanhood on this platform.” It quickly became clear that Williams, who at 38 is two decades younger than most of her co-stars, had her work cut out for her. During an early cast trip to the Hamptons, she explained to Ramona Singer, a housewife since season one, why referring to her household staff as “the help” was not OK. African-Chinese TV show contestant target of racism Ratings for New York ebbed to an all-time low over the course of the season. Williams faced backlash from a “very loud portion of the audience” who blamed her “ruining” the show and hastening its ratings collapse – a premise she finds ridiculous. Others, like John Oliver, praised her. “I think trying to teach those particular women about the black experience in America is a thankless task,” he told talk show host Wendy Williams. When it premiered in 2020, Salt Lake was touted as having the most diverse cast in history, but has since repeatedly highlighted tensions between castmates of colour. In January, Nguyen’s Facebook posts – which made light of killing Black Lives Matter protesters and questioned George Floyd ’s cause of death – became public. Bravo fired Nguyen and vowed to “make better informed and more thoughtful casting decisions” going forward. Producers of Salt Lake erred by casting women of colour who were obviously messy and easy to dismiss, says Warner. She urges Bravo to make good-faith casting decisions as it attempts to modernise the Housewives universe. “Make sure you aren’t dropping in little tropes and stereotypes that will make for good television,” Warner says. “Women of colour can be great characters, can be flawed and complex, without taking part in illegal activities.” The Real Housewives shows are available on the hayu app.