The Real Housewives of Dubai
Let’s just get the elephant — or that cat, as Brooks says — out of the way early, shall we? Sara Al-Madani wore an Afro wig to Lesa’s bashment. It seems that the lesson Bravo has learned from its numerous, shall we say, moments of glaring cultural ignorance over the last few years is not to work to avoid these problems, but lean into them for outrage, engagement, and guaranteed views. Those who are patrons of the House of Beverly Hills will tell you that Bravo’s sizzle reels are just weekly compilations of microaggressions and cruelty to feed the media cycle, so when I saw the promo photos circling for this episode, I immediately started rubbing my temples in exhaustion.
I hate to take up so much space on this point, but I also can’t allow Lesa to get away with such an inane defense of why she was fine with Sara’s wig. Yes, it is true that the Jamaican motto adopted after independence is “out of many, one people”; it is also correct that there are Arabs with afro-textured hair, particularly Afro-Arabs and Black Arabs, who can exist anywhere from Palestine to southern tip of the Swahili coast, where my people live. But Sara is neither Afro-Arabian nor does she have Afro-textured hair, nor was her wig meant to impersonate anyone other than a Black Jamaican. As Lesa pointed out, there are many ethnicities in Jamaica, including a significant population of those of Southeast Asian, South Asian, and Arab descent. There was no need for her to wear a wig; she could have been a Jamaican looking just like herself. Her justification falls apart even further when she praises her father-in-law’s Party City dreadlock-cap headpiece; I think anyone with a basic understand of colonial history (or who saw that photo of Adele at Notting Hill carnival) should know that there are plenty of white people in Jamaica who actively interact with the Jamaican diaspora.
I am not trying to get a petition started here or demand an apology from Bravo, and I absolutely do not want Andy to attempt some ham-fisted dialogue around this for the reunion (which, thankfully, was already filmed). I’m just pointing out that not everyone is as informed on the significance and impact behind these statements, and if that’s the case, they shouldn’t speak so casually about them, especially if they’re going to do something as intellectually lazy as draw an equivalence to why Black women make the hairstyling choices they do. That said, the montage of the women getting ready was really adorably shot and featured yet another strong choice by the music supervisor: Trillary Banks x Good Good. (If anyone knows where one of the girls got her boombox purse, DM me! I am obsessed with it, my crops are dying.)
It’s unfortunate that this moment was so distracting for me, because I think this is the first episode where we saw Sara truly show up as a proper Housewife. She opened up about her life, got into a ridiculous argument with absolutely zero stakes, became hysterical over something that she was at the very least equally in the wrong over, and was just a tiny bit delusional about the role she plays in the cast dynamics. When Sara discloses that her whole “girlboss gaslight gatekeep” approach to life is a result of watching her aunt be left in the dust after a horrible marriage, it completely makes sense. I think many elder millennials can relate to that anxiety and how it has manifested in our careers and relationships, both romantic and platonic. What defies comprehension for me, however, is how and why she can’t realize that she is not practicing what she preaches when it comes to Brooks, and then expects us to take her seriously about life coaching and all of the other ventures that she has a quippy truism for.
Cognitive dissonance notwithstanding, it was lovely to see Ayan meet Sara at her level — while in Diana Ross nuptial couture — and have her feedback received as more than a sideshow distraction, because Ayan does seem to understand all the players on the board quite well. Sara may be well intentioned, but if her advice is making people feel small, then she needs to revisit her delivery and not exclusively displace that onto the person receiving her counsel, even if they continue to respond like an ill-behaved toddler.
Ayan laying out a clear path forward makes it all the more unfortunate that her attempt at hashing it out over Ethiopian food went sideways. It’s clear that Sara was still unwilling to hear that she spoke out of turn while Brooks was determined to let off steam. For all of their disgust over class and how inappropriate everyone was being, I personally found Sara, Nina, and Brooks to be quite ungracious. How do you leave someone to eat by themselves because you don’t want to be held accountable in a conversation? I don’t think Sara ever planned to stay; she didn’t even pretend to order food that she won’t ever eat on camera, like the Housewives usually do. I hope the production team helped Ayan get out of her gown in order to get into the bathroom of the small shop; I’m sure she’ll give them some injera as a token of appreciation.
Brooks particularly frustrates me because what we’re given of her remains very thin, and so we really only see her sharp edges. We meet her ex-husband, who acknowledges that they had a volatile marriage, and that scene is the most gentle we’ve seen her in the entire show, which leaves me to speculate about whether her outbursts are an immature way of her reclaiming the power that she lost in her young marriage. It is hard to find the space to understand her as a character and cast member in between all of the hard edges, but when she chooses to let loose, there’s a nearly perceptible exhale that you can see on the camera, the fog breath of a crew member relieved that they don’t have to deal with any Dubai authorities over a scene getting out of hand.
The ultimate dancehall party seemed like a good time, obscene wigs notwithstanding. I respect and appreciate that Bravo is giving representation to Black girls that clap on the one and the three, but it is really stressing out me and my homegirls that so few of the Black women in the Bravo-verse have any sense of proper rhythm. I truly hope our ancestors do not have a Peacock subscription up there in heaven, because Ayan will have to answer for why she was clucking like a chicken when she was supposed to be moving her waistline. What I appreciated, however, is that the group chose to put their issues aside and show up instead of elongating a preposterous dispute over veils and word choice. That is what makes good ensemble casts, and that is what will help this show succeed in the long run.
Until next week!