The Real Housewives of Dubai stars are, technically, the new kids on the block when it comes to the infamous franchise of wealthy and eccentric women. Its freshman season – which also happens to be the first international spinoff on Bravo proper – is in the midst of airing now. The cast is definitely bringing the drama, but did they just bring the cultural appropriation, too? After wearing an Afro wig to the Jamaican-themed dancehall party, Sara Al Madani explains her choice.
During the August 3 episode, her co-star Lesa Milan threw the shindig as a means to introduce the group to her Jamaican heritage. There were a lot of jaw-dropping fashion choices that night, but none more so than the wig worn by Sara Al Madani, who is the Real Housewives of Dubai’s sole native United Arab Emirates cast member. The move didn’t appear to bother the mostly Black cast, although the fanbase is a somewhat different story. Speaking to Page Six since then, Al Madani admitted she was “worried” about committing to the idea, even if it didn’t stop her in the end:
And boy, did they! Based on what the Real Housewives of Dubai star is saying here, it seems like she is largely equating culture with ancestry, which isn’t always the same thing. To boot, she has only publicly identified as being Emirati herself, not Black. Some fans online reacted to the episode with both shock and displeasure at her casual use of the wig. One Twitter user slammed it as “disgusting” and indeed “cultural appropriation.” Another compared it to someone doing “blackface.”
But Sara Al Madani’s co-stars didn’t express criticism of her wig choice at the party. In fact, hostess Lesa Milan said she was “impressed” by it. She even foresaw the online backlash that would ensue, warning in a confessional that “nobody come with the cultural appropriation [comments]” because Jamaica’s motto is “out of many, one people.” Milan added at the time that since she was wearing a blonde wig herself that everything was “good.”
Nevertheless, Lesa Milan faced some backlash herself for what transpired in the episode. (As did their other co-star Caroline Brooks, who made a cursory “ghetto” remark.) Milan's white father-in-law was at the party wearing fake dreadlocks with a stereotypical Rastafarian hat. And viewers were equally upset about the allowances therein being made by Milan for a “Jamaican” party. As one Twitter user put it,
The Afro wigs and fake locs when dressing ‘Jamaican’ have to go. Culture is not costume. It’s 2022 how are we still doing this dumb shit. #RHODubai pic.twitter.com/yTsTlNtvaJAugust 3, 2022
Truth be told, the Real Housewives franchise has a lengthy history of stars being accused of cultural appropriation and even racism, as was the case with Jennie Nguyen. For example, RHONY’s Luann de Lesseps came under fire for wearing a Diana Ross-inspired wig and bronzer to a Halloween party in 2017. (NBC’s Megyn Kelly defended in her infamous blackface commentary the following year.) Then, in 2021, after RHOA’s Kenya Moore wore a Native American headdress to a Halloween party on the show, the resulting controversy incited Bravo to cut the offensive content from the episode entirely.
It isn’t clear if a similar tactic will be applied to the scenes of Sara Al Madani and her wig in the Real Housewives of Dubai. (As of this writing, they are still present where the reality series is streaming.) But for her part, Al Madani apparently has no regrets anyway. She told the outlet, “I just loved the look" and "I had so much fun."
I don’t know if this is what Andy Cohen meant when he said that the Real Housewives of Dubai was “going to blow the stereotypes of Dubai out of the water.” But regardless, stereotypes are obviously coming into play. Stay tuned for upcoming episodes of the new spinoff, which premiere on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST on Bravo and next day with Peacock Premium.
Freelance writer. Favs: film history, reality TV, astronomy, French fries.
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