- Real Housewives Of Atlanta -Breaking The Fourth Wall On 'Real Housewives Of Atlanta' Is Not Only Good Storytelling, It's Necessary
When you’re a Real Housewife, doing something “for show” has a double meaning. And Kenya Moore and Cynthia Bailey made that very clear during Sunday night’s episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. After a yoga session, the two friends sat down for a conversation about the Cynthia's upcoming wedding (which, in real life, has already come and gone). Cynthia wants to have a big wedding, even if that means moving the date due to the COVID-19 pandemic; her fiancé, Mike Hill, wants to get married on their chosen date — which is, as we all know, 10/10/20 — even if that just means going to City Hall. Giving her two cents, Kenya says, “You want to make it about a show versus just getting married to him on that day because that’s the date.” Cynthia then takes the next step: “Okay, let’s just break the fourth wall all the way down.”
The producers oblige Cynthia, allowing the series itself to play a role in the remainder of the scene: Cynthia tells Kenya she’d want a big wedding even if she wasn’t on a TV show, and Kenya says that isn’t how Mike sees it. “That is very insulting,” Cynthia says in her confessional. “The show didn't tell me I have to have a big wedding. The show didn't tell me I even had to get married. Hell, the show didn't tell me I had to get divorced. So go run and tell that!”
Increasingly, Bravo's producers have opted to break down their series' fourth walls, and, as much as the move has been a surprise (and delight) for viewers, it has also caught (decidedly not-delighted) cast members by surprise. Just look at the "Bravo, Bravo, fucking Bravo"-gate of the most recent season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Denise Richards attempted to intercept scenes by name-dropping the network, assuming that would render the footage unusable. (This was an early season trick the women would employ if they needed to, say, reapply lip gloss.)
But now, as production has continued to take a sledgehammer to that fourth wall, the cast members have become aware that such footage can still be part of their storyline. The fact that they’re on a show is part of the drama itself. And that couldn't be better for the franchise — and for us viewers. It's maturing the medium, allowing "reality" to get one step closer to, well, reality. In The Real Housewives of Atlanta's case, though, it's not just about weddings and disagreements — it's another way to highlight worthy issues that go beyond the light-hearted drama.
Housewives might be a franchise primarily about rich women yelling at one another, but, over the years, Real Housewives Of Atlanta has managed to highlight numerous real world issues, particularly those that affect the Black community. We not only saw this in 2020, when Porsha Williams was arrested twice during peaceful protests for Black Lives Matter, but also in 2015, when the cast attended the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, and spoke with politicians about the Black American experience. So when Atlanta's Housewives break the fourth wall, they're less likely to be growling over Lucy Lucy Apple Juice's Radar Online exposé — instead, they're often broaching topics that extend far beyond their gated communities.
Take Sunday's episode, when Porsha's sister, Lauren, threw her a surprise get-together to celebrate her work with the Black Lives Matter protests, particularly when it came to fighting for justice for Breonna Taylor. Speaking to Kandi Burruss, Kenya, who was disinvited, called the party “self-serving,” “fake,” and a “photo op.” She also questioned why Porsha always happens to get arrested on camera. While Kenya could just be referencing the party potentially landing on Instagram, she’s more than likely referring to the show itself as a “photo op,” too.
All of these women know that if they throw an event that most of the cast attends, it will be part of the show. It’s that simple. So, Kenya’s right that the party was, in a sense, a “photo op” — but that’s a good thing. Porsha used her platform as a celebrity to bring attention to her cause when she got arrested, because an arrest of a famous person is always going to make headlines. Similarly, by ensuring an event centered around Black Lives Matter becomes part of the show, the cause and its history (Porsha made a speech and reminisced about her grandfather, civil rights leader Hosea Williams) gets highlighted even further. Porsha's party isn’t just self-serving, it’s using the show the best way it can be used. And with Kenya breaking the fourth wall to question Porsha's motives and the show utilizing Porsha's home footage of her arrests, we only got more time with the topic.
Expect this to continue. Lorraine Haughton-Lawson, the SVP of Programming at Truly Original, the production company behind RHOA spoke to The Dipp about the technique in September 2020. “Breaking the fourth wall has become more prevalent, and I think it will continue to be part of the viewer experience,” the producer said. “Our goal as producers and storytellers is to always accurately present the reality of our cast’s lives. In order to achieve that level of authenticity, you just can’t ignore what happens after the cameras go off. The moments where we break the fourth wall provide viewers with greater insight into various story points, but it also keeps our cast honest and real.”
With RHOA in its 13th season, viewers are well aware that we’re watching real women who know they are on a show, who have made a lot of money from being on a show, and whose lives are complicated by the fact that they’re reality TV stars. To not acknowledge that has made increasingly less sense. (Just look at Vanderpump Rules, where we had to keep pretending the cast made their living as restaurant employees.) While not all reality series — or even all Housewives series — may go down the same path as RHOA, in a world affected by a pandemic and an uprising over racial injustice, tearing the wall down isn’t just good storytelling, it’s necessary.