- Southern Charm -'Southern Charm's Leva Bonaparte On Racism, Cast Changes, & Her "Holy Shit" Year
“Everyday I was like ‘holy shit,’ and then, ‘holy shit,’ and then ‘holy shit,’” Southern Charm’s newest cast member Leva Bonaparte tells me, summing up 2020 the same way many of us would. But unlike the rest of us, Bonaparte’s experience of the unbelievable year was documented for Bravo.
Every new development — from COVID-19 to the country’s reignited reckoning with racism — became part of the show. “I really feel like all of filming was just a big ‘holy shit’ because the world was just... everything was crazy.”
If you’re a longtime Southern Charm fan, you know Bonaparte even if you don’t think you do. She filmed scenes with her close friend and former roommate Cameran Eubanks and was in the background at plenty of events.
“I think in particular this year I was just in a space where I wanted to come from a place of ‘yes,’” Bonaparte tells me of joining the show full-time. “I just thought this would be kind of a fun experience. Since I tend to be at everything anyway, I was like, why not just open my life up.”
And open up she did. If you watch the Season 7 trailer, Bonaparte is featured heavily, which can be attributed to her outspokenness and her natural connections to her castmates. Eubanks, along with Naomie Olindo and Chelsea Meissner, left the show ahead of Season 7, but Bonaparte already knew the remaining cast members, some socially and some — Danni Baird and Craig Conover — as close friends.
Olindo gave Bonaparte some advice for the show — “Protect your heart. Sometimes things can be really difficult. Don’t get too deeply involved in the drama” — but Bonaparte says she didn’t really need it. “I own so many businesses that that’s just real life to me. There’s drama everywhere, all day, all the time. It wasn’t anything new.”
Bonaparte’s businesses include several restaurants and bars in Charleston, South Carolina, where Southern Charm is set. Fans will get to see her run them with her husband, Lamar, and will also get a look at their life with their young son. “You’ll see my family, which is just our family, just a little diverse family living in the south.” Bonaparte is Persian and her husband is Black.
“We truly love our city, but it's definitely, I think, a different view of living in Charleston versus maybe what you typically see,” she says.
Like all of us, Bonaparte’s family and work was affected by COVID. “Charleston is a hospitality city, so that turned Charleston upside down,” she says of the pandemic.
“It felt like a movie, like a doomsday movie. Main Street is packed with people everyday and then it was just like crickets. It’s crazy. Filming was crazy. We shut down filming, so at first we were all sort of self-vlogging what was going on and what wasn't going on ... And then anxiety set in, and then ‘when are we reopening’ and then you're just with your husband too much or you miss your parents. All of the emotions and stress and everything just started pouring in and everything in the world was sort of bleeding into our reality.”
Obviously, Season 7 is going to look different because of the casting shakeup and because of COVID — in one scene from the trailer Baird talks to Shep Rose through a door — but there is another, more refreshing change and it’s all thanks to Bonaparte.
As shown in the preview, viewers will get to see her challenge her cast mates — specifically Kathryn Dennis — on things like white privilege and racism, which is something the show has needed for years.
“I think we would be incredibly tone deaf to not be aware of what’s going on in America,” Bonaparte says. “And it naturally — I mean this is the south, right? There’s a lot of history here. There are a lot of big wounds that have not been healed, and so those wounds sort of opened back up. It’s a tender place in America and I think of a lot of that bled into our reality and the cameras were just there to capture it.”
On the show, this can be seen through the removal of a statue of John C. Calhoun, vice president, slave owner, and Dennis’ ancestor.
“I don’t think [topics about race] would have been addressed had I not been on the show,” Bonaparte says flat out. “We don't usually like to have uncomfortable conversations until we have to. And I definitely am just a person who can’t seem to move forward in any capacity with anybody unless I'm able to say, hey, this violated something in me that doesn’t feel right.”
Bonaparte says specifically that she doesn’t like to go to plantations, something that had been commonplace on the show as a couple of cast members had them as their family homes.
“It triggers me in a deep way only because of being educated about the history of the atrocities that were committed there,” she says. “So I think when you see the friendship with somebody like me, they’re tested in ways that they haven’t been tested before.”
Southern Charm recently pulled a scene from a Season 3 episode in which Dennis gave a tour of her family’s plantation. With Bonaparte on the cast, it sounds like situations like this won’t go unchecked, which is a relief to any viewers who wished someone would have spoken up in past seasons.
“I think you see an alternate part of everybody’s world because we were lucky enough to have a diverse group of people,” she says. “I think it’s a beautiful thing.” In addition to Bonaparte making the cast a little less white, Black content creator Venita Aspen can be seen frequently in the trailer, though she is not a full-time cast member.
Bonaparte says that the cast was generally supportive of her speaking up about racism, especially the women, while some of the men “were a little bit more concerned with protecting Kathryn,” which she can understand since they’ve been friends for years. She now describes her relationship with Kathryn as “cordial.”
Bonaparte says she didn’t feel more of a responsibility to speak out about racism because she was on the show; it’s what she would have been doing anyway. “My husband is African American, I don’t know how many generations southern. My son is half Black, half Persian. So, of course these things all deeply affect my family,” she says.
“I’m the friend that’s always going to be real, even if you don't want to hear it. I always say that to everybody. I’m like, I know I'm not the friend you want right now, but I'm being the friend you need.”
She adds with a laugh, “And that’s why not everybody’s friends with me.” Sounds like a reality star and a productive member of society.
But while Bonaparte questioning the cast on their privilege is important and necessary, thankfully, that’s not all she’s on Southern Charm to do. “I’m hoping you’ll see all the sides,” she says. “You’ll see mom me, business me, friend me, all the good stuff. I hope it will be mostly good. Forgive me if it’s not.”
For anyone who is considering not watching the season due to the cast change, heavy topics, and reliving the COVID of all it, Bonaparte has a message.
“The whole world’s dealt with so much change, a little more change won’t hurt ya,” she says. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised. It was a good season. It was a really real season. I think it has a lot of heart, and I think it definitely showcased simply a group of friends living in a city with its own sort of petri of culture and us navigating it. At the end of the day I'm really proud of how authentic we were with the tremendous amount of stress we were having.”
She adds: “We made it out alive. We’re all here, and that’s not even, like, a joke.”
Image: John Valkos/Bravo