November 19, 2001

Real Worlder Melissa Speaks Out About Experiences on MTV Show

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Melissa Howard, former cast member of MTV’s reality television show, The Real World, spoke Friday evening in Kennedy Hall Auditorium about her experiences on the show as a bi-racial participant.

The talk was attended by close to 100 students, many of whom were members of Bi-Multiracial Lineages, Ethnicities and Nationalities Discussion (BLEND) and the Cornell Filipino Association, co-sponsors of the event.

Howard said that it was “great to just be in a room with people who understand what it feels like to be characterized.”

Tammy Lewis, President of BLEND, said in her introductory remarks that her organization co-sponsored the event because Howard was “very vocal on The Real World about identity and race.”

Howard, who lived in the New Orleans house for five months in 2000 as part of Season Nine, has a mixed ethnic background. Her mother is Filipino while her father is African American.

After commenting on her own background, Howard began discussing her own portrayal and experience on The Real World.

“The Real World is bad,” Howard said. “It packages the show for a very specific audience.”

Howard also complained that the show’s producers, Bunim-Murray Productions, “tried to make issues racial,” and that “the producers make you a minority and exploit you.” This is why, Howard said, “nice guys do not do well on The Real World.”

“The fact that the producers made arguments racially bent really pissed me off,” she said.

Howard also discussed how other cast-members, including Jamie Murray ’00, were negatively portrayed on the show. “The show is good at characterizing people and filling predetermined roles,” Howard said. “Jamie filled the typical ‘frat-boy,’ privileged white guy role.”

“Jamie’s role was portrayed wrong,” Howard said. She further commented that other cast-members were “portrayed in horrible ways that aren’t fair.”

Howard, who struggled with her own ethnicity in many episodes of the series, said that on the show “you choose and pick your battles.” “You will kill yourself trying to educate all those who don’t know,” she added.

When asked by an audience member whether or not the experience was worth it, Howard responded, “I would not do it again. It was not a positive experience and was definitely not worth all the personal emotion and pain.”

Finally, Howard discussed how The Real World was “really, really staged.” She explained that certain characters, such as her boss Elton on the show, were actors. “How the producers sleep at night, I do not know,” she added.

“It was interesting hearing Howard’s opinion,” commented Aaron Shapiro ’04. “This is not something you pick up on just by watching the show.”

Archived article by Marc Zawel