During a scene in the season 3 premiere of Bravo’s “Southern Charm,” which originally aired in April 2016, cast member Kathryn Dennis gives a tour of her family’s South Carolina home — a plantation — to her guest, K. Cooper Ray.
“And there’s actually a slave cemetery over there — no joke!” Dennis says. Ray exclaims, “Wow!” They then go on to discuss the plantation. “So this was a rice plantation?” Ray asks. Dennis answers, blithely: “Yes. Rice, cotton and tobacco.”
As Variety reported last month, Bravo pulled four episodes of “Southern Charm” from its video-on-demand channels to review them for racist content. Three of the episodes were restored to BravoTV.com, the Bravo app and Bravo’s satellite and cable VOD service completely intact.
But that plantation scene from the third season, according to a Bravo spokesperson, will be edited out. It will be expunged before the episode is put back on VOD. (The absence of the “Southern Charm” episodes was first noticed by in a TikTok video by user @thetalkofshame.)
The decision to delete part of a show’s history is a knotty one, according to Shari Levine, Bravo’s executive vice president of production. If reality shows document how people live, is erasing something that’s offensive or troublesome the right answer? Especially when it’s a scene that already aired?
“It is a very hard question you’re asking. Because it is really the struggle of the time; it is the question of the time,” Levine said. “People behave in a certain way, and it feels uncomfortable for a large number of people — but it’s also a reflection of a moment of a culture.”
Bravo fan @thetalkofshame, who is Black, and frequently comments on the network’s shows, disagrees with the erasure. In a TikTok about Variety’s story about the “Southern Charm” episode that would be going under the knife, she said: “Here’s the thing: I don’t want those scenes cut out. Should they have been glamorized when they were originally aired? Absolutely not. But now that we know better, we should all have to take a look at how this country was built — where old money really comes from.”
It’s a true dilemma, Levine said. “We have very mixed feelings about it.” And about that specific scene, Levine added: “It is exactly what Kathryn felt at the time that she was saying it.”
There may not be a perfect answer. Bravo has been under particular scrutiny in recent months, and fired two stars of “Vanderpump Rules” — Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute — after racist actions the network deemed intolerable. “We clearly made a choice when it came to ‘Vanderpump Rules,’ and we were very vocal about that,” Levine said. “We are mindful of what the moment is. And we all feel the same in terms of intolerance, and in terms of being part of a culture that doesn’t inflict pain on people.”
The continued employment of Kathryn Dennis — the star of that “Southern Charm” scene, who has been on all six seasons of the show — was also in question this year. Several months ago, Dennis was slammed for sending a monkey emoji to Charleston activist Mika Gadsden, a Black woman. The incident took place in May during an argument about a Trump boat parade that played out on social media.
On the larger question of how to deal with content that might be a teachable moment for some viewers, and horribly offensive to others, Levine said it’s complicated.
“It’s a really tough place to be,” she said. “I don’t have a straight answer for you, and I wish I did. It is a really difficult place — and they’re really hard questions to navigate.”