The Real Housewives franchise brings its drama to flashy Dubai – Coast Mountain News
The camera pans across a vast expanse of desert before heading towards an artificial island in the Persian Gulf lined with luxury homes. Eerie chords play out as if to warn viewers: This isn’t your “Real Housewives of Orange County.”
For the first time in its 16-year history, the American franchise-turned-reality-tv institution will take its glamor and soap opera abroad – specifically to the skyscraper-studded Sheikhdom of Dubai. While the franchise has sold countless global spin-offs from Lagos to Vancouver, never before has it been produced by the Bravo network.
The Real Housewives of Dubai debuts Wednesday, introducing six new women to the crown jewel of the network of catfights and marital breakdowns loved, spellbound and hated around the world.
Dubai may be around 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) from the California gated community where the reality show empire premiered in 2006, as evidenced by a cameo appearance of camels in the series’ teaser.
But while Dubai’s “housewives” gossip over sumptuous lunches, bicker while sipping from stemware, and come to casual gatherings cloaked in designer logos, it turns out they’re not that far from Orange County after all.
That’s a message women want to convey. Performers say the on-screen portrayal of their extravagant, party-hard lives debunks stereotypes about the United Arab Emirates, a Gulf Arab Federation where Islam is the official religion.
“This is an opportunity for me to show the western world, or the world in general, what a modern Arab woman can be like,” Sara Al Madani, a serial entrepreneur and single mother, told The Associated Press of her quirky, portrait-adorned Mansion of her favorite non-fungible tokens and a room full of trophies commemorating her career.
Instead of the traditional black abaya, Al Madani wore a wide-brimmed suede hat. With a nose ring, tongue piercing and arm tattoo that reads “Rebel,” she was the first to admit, “I’m not your typical Arab or Emirati.”
Al Madani is the only performer from the Emirates – a ratio that comes as no surprise in a country where there are almost nine to one more foreigners than locals.
The other “housewives” found the splendor of Dubai from afar. Caroline Stanbury, a reality star who caused drama on Bravo’s Ladies of London series, moved to Dubai with her children after divorcing and remarrying a former soccer player.
Caroline Brooks, an Afro-Latina businesswoman from Massachusetts, found success in Dubai’s grueling real estate industry. “It’s very expensive to cheat on me,” she tells viewers in the trailer. “Ask my ex.”
Nina Ali, an ultra-glamorous Lebanese mother of three, founded Fruit Cake, a fruit cake business. Lesa Hall, a Jamaican designer of luxury maternity wear and former beauty queen, recently posted an ice cream cone to Instagram — with a 24-karat gold leaf on top.
Chanel Ayan, an airy Kenyan-born model who broke prejudice in the United Arab Emirates to walk for top European fashion houses, is now developing a makeup line. She described herself in an interview with the AP as “outgoing, fun, crazy and insanely hot.”
Like the franchise’s American stars, women in Dubai are not housewives in the traditional sense, but business owners of society trying to define their brands. And Dubai, a city relentlessly trying to market itself on the world stage, provides a fitting backdrop.
With zero income taxes, gleaming skyscrapers and countless malls, the emirate has been made a global destination for the ultra-rich. Rich and poor fortune seekers from all over the world flock to Dubai, including migrant workers from South Asia, Africa and the Philippines who work long hours for low wages. However, the franchise only focuses on a tiny subset of wealthy women.
The cast described Dubai as a westernized playground where women can have fun and do whatever they want.
“You’ve got glitz, you’ve got glamour, you’ve got fashion,” Stanbury said, cradling her black Pomeranian named Taz against her sequined Prada crop top. On her coffee table was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned.
“They don’t understand how much it is worth living in a country like this,” she added.
But in the UAE, women are legally obliged to obey their husbands under the Islamic law of the nation. Despite major legal changes, swearing, drinking and kissing in public can still get you into trouble. Homosexuality remains forbidden, as does crossdressing. Authorities suppress evidence of political dissent.
Executives insisted that the UAE’s traditional values and language restrictions, which had long hampered the oil-rich country’s efforts to become a regional entertainment hub, were not holding housewives back.
Fans can still expect booze-drenched gatherings and dramatic confrontations, said Sezin Cavusoglu, the Bravo executive in charge of the series. But it will not throw drinks in public, turn tables, pull hair, or otherwise demonstratively fight.
“They live there. They know what’s acceptable and what’s not,” Cavusoglu said. “They’ve still given us amazing content just by being who they are and having really honest and difficult conversations.”
The government-run Dubai media office did not respond to AP requests for comment. The Dubai Tourism Board and the Film Commission approved the series and enabled its production.
That’s already a marked change from more than a decade ago, when the Dubai government cited moral concerns when it turned down producers for the film’s sequel, Sex and the City.
Not everyone in the UAE rejoices in the spotlight of the Real Housewives. Appalled by the foul-mouthed, bikini-clad women in the trailer, Emirati social media influencer Majid Alamry berated the series on Instagram last week.
“We’re a tolerant country, but that doesn’t mean others can go above our morals,” he said in a viral clip. Local media also profiled more down-to-earth housewives in the UAE, who “demanded a more accurate account”.
But the reality franchise has always been escapist fare, cast and executives say, divorced from the reality of ordinary viewers.
“It’s just meant to be entertainment,” Stanbury said from her immaculate kitchen, where on a clear day she can see elephants stalking a wildlife sanctuary and the world’s tallest tower rising above the desert. “You get a glimpse into all of our crazy lives.”
– Isabel Debre, The Associated Press
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