VH-1’s latest reality show, Sorority Sisters, isn’t receiving the love that the series producers thought they would receive from the Black Greek Lettered Organziations (BGLO’s). There is a massive social media movement, against the show, which is directly aimed at its advertiser’s. Lawrence Ross, author of The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities, shared his views on why he and a friend are leading a revolt against a show featuring women. They have successfully lost the show over 300k viewers and as of today, 59 companies have pulled ads from the show. Why are they successful? Let’s find out.
When did you start your social media strategy against Sorority Sisters?
It all began with a strategy I created a couple of days after VH1 started releasing promos. A lot of BGLO members were angry that their initial petition (June) didn’t work, and that VH1 was trying to sneak the show into their lineup without much notice. But I noticed that the protests people were thinking about doing weren’t going to be effective. A lot of people wanted to not watch, or send letters to VH1, etc. I knew that VH1 didn’t really care about rating numbers (especially since even without Black Greek members, they’d still get numbers for their ad rates), and they could handle angry phone calls. But I did know that they didn’t want their advertisers to be disturbed, and so I created a social media strategy that targeted the brands who are supporting the show, either explicitly through direct ads, or implicitly, as part of an ad block buy. I was sure that none of them would want to be part of a show that denigrated close to one million African American fraternities and sororities. I wouldn’t.
Why aren’t black women at the forefront of this effort? Should they be?
I wouldn’t say that I’m leading anything. I’d say that the members are leading this, as they continue to tweet, protest, and email these brands. And yes, black women ARE at the forefront of this effort. Robin Caldwell, a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, has been instrumental in spreading information. Thousands of women in the sororities have been doing real work to get this info out. My strategy happened to be the catalyst for the protest strategy, but this is a fight that black women have and should be leading.
Which advertisers have responded?
So far, there have been three advertisers who’ve responded: Hallmark, Carmex, and Selma director Ava Duvernay, herself a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, has pulled ads promoting Selma from the broadcast. Everyone else has gone on our Black Greek Anti-Xmas List, and we’re boycotting until they pull out of the show.
What is your objection to the show?
The show is a gross representation of African American fraternal life. It makes a mockery of the association, and the work, that these organizations have done to date. And it’s intentional. The producers of this show made choices as to the types of people they wanted to represent these sororities, and as a result, they went for the lowest common denominator. That is a choice, and it is a choice that says that they don’t respect us, and they certainly don’t respect African American women.
When VH1 first announced that they were going to produce Sorority Sisters last summer, over 40,000 people signed a petition to say that they didn’t want this show. Why? Because people knew that VH1 tends to produce lowest common denominator shows that reflect badly on black women, in particular, but African Americans in general. And it appeared that they’d pulled the show. But last week, they started doing promos for the show, and it was apparent that they were trying to sneak it under the radar. And when we all watched it, the show confirmed all of our worst visions.
Sorority Sisters is not only offensive to African Americans, but it’s particularly insulting to African American sororities. These are organizations with over a million college educated members, all which serve the African American community for a lifetime. Whether it’s scholarships, mentorship, or social action. Sorority Sisters uses that legacy and reduces it to a perverse caricature. With each airing of Sorority Sisters, VH1 does immeasurable damage to our mission, and they knew that…and didn’t care. So we’re going to shut this show down…and then we’re moving to other shows on their programming that denigrates African Americans.
Related article: Why black America hates VH1’s ‘Sorority Sisters’
Have you had direct contact with VH1 and, if so, what was their response to your objections?
We haven’t been in contact with VH1 because we know that complaining to them is shooting at the wrong target. You don’t put something on your channel like Sorority Sisters, and care about what African Americans have to say about it. You do it because you think it’ll make you money, so our views be damned. And we’re right. They issued an email statement in the Washington Post where they touted their viewership numbers. That should tell you all you need to know. They don’t care about the objections, or the African American community, just the numbers, which they hope translates to valuable ad rates.
Have you been in touch with commercial sponsors of the show who have withdrawn their ads?
Beyond communicating with them via Twitter, where we thank them for putting the African American community before VH1’s programming, we haven’t. But we will, as we start to analyze the rest of VH1 programming.
Did you hear directly from Ava DuVernay or a representative about removing ads for “Selma” from the series?
We heard from her via a tweet response. I attached it. Ava is the first person to respond to us, and since she’s an AKA, we’d expect nothing less. And we’re going to make Selma #1 at the box office.
As one of our leaders, Robin Caldwell (a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority) said, this is a continuation of the philosophy that Black Lives Matter. Yes, Black Lives Matter in life and death situations in the streets, but they also matter in terms of when people denigrate us in the media. This is just the start.
One more thing: I was able to craft the social media strategy to get rid of Sorority Sisters, but it’s the tireless work of THOUSANDS of African American fraternities and sororities who are moving from being angry to taking action who deserve the credit. And they’re also learning about the power they have to create change.
If the network doesn’t remove the show, which is the case as of now, is there a next step to take?
VH1 will remove the show because we’re going to make advertising on this show toxic. We have one million activated African American fraternity and sorority members, and we’ll escalate this each and every day until each of the advertisers realize that the cost for continuing to advertise on one show is too great. And we’re going to make it too great, because we haven’t even gotten started with this campaign.
Lawrence attended undergrad at both the University of California at Berkeley and UCLA, where he received a BA in history. Ross also has a Masters of Fine Arts from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. He lives in Los Angeles, and is a lecturer and author of The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. Follow him on twitter @Alpha1906