Why is The Real Housewives of Potomac cast all black? The show’s origins, explained

The Real Housewives of Potomac

Why is The Real Housewives of Potomac cast all black? Last week, we reported on the origins of the newest entry in the Real Housewives franchise, and highlighted claims from viewers and reviewers that something about the show seemed stilted. It seemed that, before filming for the show began, the Real Housewives of Potomac cast weren’t told that they would be filming specifically for a Real Housewives show; instead, they were told they would be working on a show that focused on the legendarily strict etiquette rules of the Washington D.C. area.

However, that premise didn’t ring true for many observers–especially those in the greater D.C. (and Potomac) area. The Washington Post‘s review asked “Just who’s writing all these etiquette rules, anyway?” An Inquisitr review written by a Marylander stated “Bravo has really missed the boat on this one.” And Glamour bemoaned the number of times the Real Housewives of Potomac cast used the “E” word in the pilot: “It was only said about 4,329,572 times during the hour-long premiere.”

2016 NBCUniversal Press Tour at The Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa - Arrivals Featuring: Real Housewives of Potomac, Karen Huger, Charrisse Jackson Jordan, Robyn DIxon, Gizelle Bryant, Ashley Derby Where: Pasadena, California, United States When: 13 Jan 2016 Credit: Nicky Nelson/WENN.com

It looks like the real reason for the disconnect between what the Real Housewives of Potomac cast is playing up and the promise of the show’s title is a correction that producers had to make after filming had already begun. When the show that would become RHOP started production last summer, it was entitled Potomac Ensemble. At the time, the Post reported that the show’s one-sheet (an industry term for its general plot summary) promised it would follow the “upscale lives of six affluent African-American women, who call Potomac home.”

Why African-American women specifically? Per the Post, the  Real Housewives of Potomac cast was originally “supposed to give viewers a sneak peek inside Jack and Jill of America, ‘an historic African American social club that becomes a playground for gossip and cattiness among its members,’ according to the one-sheet.”

According to its own website, though, Jack and Jill of America is much more than just a social club. The group’s official biography states a very different set of intentions:


Jack and Jill of America, Inc. is a membership organization of mothers with children ages 2-19, dedicated to nurturing future African-American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving and civic duty. The late Marion Stubbs Thomas founded Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated on January 24, 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Twenty mothers came together to discuss creating an organization to provide social, cultural and educational opportunities for youth between the ages of two and nineteen. In 1946, ten chapters were involved in the national restructuring process. Constitution and bylaws were drawn up and the organization was incorporated under the laws of the state of Delaware. Today, Jack and Jill boasts over 230 chapters nationwide, representing over 40,000 family members. Each chapter plans annual programming activities guided under a national theme. Through service projects, Jack and Jill of America creates a medium of contact for children to stimulate their growth and development.


Given those aims, it perhaps makes sense that Jack and Jill’s national board was quick to voice its doubts both to cast members–all of whom, according to the Post‘s follow-up, are members of two Maryland chapters–and producers. Tammy King, national president of Jack and Jill of America, e-mailed the entire organization to express umbrage at any production that “shines a negative light on our iconic organization.”

King’s e-mail went on: “As a result of these recent activities,” she wrote, “we think that it is important to review our stated code because as mothers, we all agreed to abide by these rules as a condition of our membership.” Foremost among those rules? Conduct “that reflects the high moral and ethical character of Jack and Jill mothers,” and includes “exercising good manners, avoiding derogatory, demeaning and insulting remarks, and keeping confidences and maintaining confidentiality.”

Ashley Darby drama 1

Jack and Jill’s disapproval meant that the organziation wouldn’t allow itself to be associated (or mentioned by name). So the entire premise upon which the Real Housewives of Potomac cast had signed up for the original show had to be tossed out. Not that producers were deterred: it was only five months later that what was Potomac Ensemble had been re-branded as the show viewers see today.

The Real Housewives of Potomac cast member Ashley Darby recently gave a couple of interviews in which she addressed the ongoing etiquette issues at work in the show, and hinted at the likelihood that she and the rest of the Real Housewives of Potomac cast will start to steer away from those issues in later episodes. Speaking to Reality Tea, Ashley shared a much looser vibe:


I have an appreciation for someone having their own ideals. I will respect them, but I’m all about you living your life and doing your thing. I’m not all about projecting those ideals on to someone else. I feel that as long as no one is robbing the innocence of children or threatening lives (laughs), there’s really no reason to tell someone how to act and how to behave. You know, we’re all unique individuals so let’s just appreciate who we are and keep it movin’!


And a feature story in the Post‘s lifestyle magazine reaffirmed Ashley’s dedication to being portrayed exactly the way she is. “I am young and I am fun and I am outgoing and I love to dance, and [husband] Michael and I just don’t take things too seriously,” she explained. “We’re really trying to be ourselves in this whole thing. We’re not playing….And that rubs people the wrong way sometimes.”

You can catch Ashley and the rest of the Real Housewives of Potomac cast Sunday nights at 9 PM EST on Bravo.


(Photo credits: Real Housewives of Potomac cast via Twitter, Nicky Nelson / WENN)

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