Lifetime is set to debut a new show called Girlfriend Intervention on Aug. 27. It's a makeover show similar to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, only this time, a group of black women makeover white women.
The makeover team consists of (from left to right) "beauty pro" Tracy Balan, "fashion maven" Tiffiny Dixon, "home/sanctuary guru" Nikki Chu, and "soul coach" Tanisha Thomas of Bad Girls Club fame.
The description of the show on Lifetime's website makes no mention of race, but the description on Lifetime's press site reads:
Many black women carry themselves with a great deal of pride, style and, most importantly, self-confidence. Where does it come from and how can it be obtained? Who better to teach a woman how to get that sparkle in her eye and spring back in her step? Each week, Girlfriend Intervention follows a woman whose personal space and self-esteem are in desperate need of a major makeover and a life-giving dose of diva inspiration.
A teaser for the show opens with "soul coach" Tanisha Thomas saying: "Trapped inside of every white girl is a strong black woman waiting to bust out."
The show is already drawing criticism for its handling and treatment of race.
For Harriet, a website dedicated to discussing issues of black womanhood, refers to the show as "a regurgitation of another tired stereotype about Black women," and Variety's Brian Lowry says "building all these familiar makeover-show elements around a racial component simply breeds a lot of tone-deaf blather, including the various things that black women will or won't do."
The program is driven by a few worrisome moving parts: the reliance on the "strong black woman" stereotype, which sets an unattainable expectation of invincibility for black women; a harkening to the "magical negro," a trope in which a black character's sole purpose is to save or enhance the life of a white protagonist; and the idea that black and white women are inherently different and monolithic. These elements reaffirm the historical white fantasy of black servitude that has long permeated American popular culture, from Gone With The Wind to The Help.
The first episode, titled "Joanie Get Your Groove Back," is full of absolutes that paint black women as infallibly confident and self-assured and white women as mousey, timid, and bland.
Cast members Tanisha Thomas and Tiffiny Dixon spoke to women's interest site Bustle about the controversy.
Dixon said the way the show handles race is "kind of the antithesis" to the problem of race. "Finally," she says, "we’re coming together, we’re embracing the fact that, you know what, I’m proud of my race, my culture. You’re proud of your culture. Let’s come together and merge and learn from each other."
"I think the fact that they’re criticizing it shows more racism on their side than our side," said Thomas. "The message is really universal. It’s about women empowerment, women everywhere, all colors of all shapes and sizes."
But some, like well-known beauty blogger Patrice Yursik of Afrobella, question whether or not the race angle is necessary to provide that empowerment.
An actress who auditioned for the show spoke to BuzzFeed about her experience on the condition of anonymity.
World of Wonder is teaming up with a Major Cable Network to produce a new, funny make over show for women. [EXPERT/HOSTS] We are currently casting our make over team of experts/hosts. We are looking for dynamic, funny, attractive, sassy African American women that have knowledge or specialize in beauty, fashion, lifestyle, interior design, life coaching, relationships, astrology, etc. The bigger the personality, the better!
She said that there was heavy emphasis put on "being real" that led her to believe there was a specific type of blackness they were looking for.
It was really strange to be honest. It's becoming more common to do Skype auditions/meetings, but it still doesn't feel like an audition. They asked me all kinds of questions: How old is too old to shop at Forever 21? If an older woman gets dumped, how do you help her feel young again? It seemed like a bunch of quasi-offensive questions, but the end goal was to make a suburban clueless woman feel her best.
Another part of the audition was discussing how to be "real" with some of the show's guests if they don't like something we advise. "Real" was hella emphasized and I was asked to come up with bigger reactions to a woman saying she doesn't want highlights. I'm not bitter, but I think they wanted me to be a more caricatured Black woman and tell her how it is with a z-shaped snap.
She also said there was "an insistence on being louder — essentially 'blacker' every time I answered a question ... Also they kept saying, 'Imagine it's just you and your girlfriends giving advice,' which felt like a deliberate, 'talk like you're not talking to a white lady' demand."