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Reality TV sometimes feels like its own little world, populated by people who are given a platform to continue to act in ways so exaggerated that it only perpetuates the idea that they live in a world totally separate from our own. Prime example: Lala Kent, star of Vanderpump Rules, literally thinks she’s got the soul of Tupac inside of her (in case that wasn't ridiculous enough, she's also feuding with none other than Jennifer Lawrence). And yet there’s always a string of real-world truth to everything that happens on drama-filled shows—like, for example, when the a franchise like Real Housewives brushes up against very of-the-moment issues like cultural appropriation.
The 10th season of The Real Housewives of New York City premiered last night, and the main event was a Halloween party in which one of the show’s stars, Luann De Lesseps, showed up dressed as Diana Ross. Her costume was immediately controversial because she appeared to have altered her skin to be several shades darker than her own; she also wore an absolutely massive afro wig. She was accused of dressing in blackface and just generally being tone-deaf to how her costume was unnecessarily offensive, but she was quick to respond to these accusations during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.
The first thing that noted drama-lover Andy Cohen asked Luann was about the costume. She was quick to apologize for potentially hurting anyone’s feelings, but she denied that she had or ever would do blackface.
“I’m horrified! I never meant to hurt anybody’s feelings. I love Diana Ross, I totally respect Diana Ross, and it was really kind of a tribute to her,” Luann responded.
“The issue was altering the color of your skin,” Cohen interjected.
“I didn’t. I had bronzer on that I wear normally on the rest of my skin,” she said. “I’m tan like right now. I didn’t add anything or would ever, ever, ever dream of doing a blackface. I’m really sorry to everyone out there if I offended anyone.”
Cohen also pointed out that there was another issue with the costume: her afro wig, arguing that Ross “very rarely” wore her hair that way. Cohen didn’t get into it, but the implication here is that Luann was perpetuating a stereotype about black people in a comical or hyperbolic way.
Luann tweeted a similar apology from her Twitter account last night.
I would like to clear the air, I love and respect Diana Ross, this was my tribute to her I was showing my sincere admiration. I in no way altered my skin color and I did not mean to offend anyone.— Luann de Lesseps (@CountessLuann) April 5, 2018
During the episode of the show, Luann told cameras that “I’m Diana Ross because she’s fabulous.” A castmate, Carole Radziwill, said the costume was “disrespectful” and that Luann is "tone-deaf when it comes to cultural stereotypes" and "generally tone-deaf anyway."
Luann has had an eventful past few months. She was arrested in December for “battery on an officer, disorderly intoxication, resisting arrest with violence, and crimes against a person” in Palm Beach, Florida, per the Palm Beach Post. It sounded truly wild, with Luann even allegedly telling people, “I’m going to kill you all” before being arrested. She blamed her erratic behavior on her divorce, which happened in August. She’s since gone to rehab.