How "Preacher's Daughters" Missed an Opportunity to Explore Church Sexism

by Brittany Dawson

Lifetime’s controversial reality television show Preacher’s Daughters chronicles the whereabouts of nine preacher’s daughters from across the United States whose fathers—and respective church communities—believe a mission trip to Cabo, Mexico will sanctify their unorthodox, morally abducted souls from worldly vice. (Insert sarcasm.)

At first glance, scenes showcasing the women attending Bible study, building homes for impoverished families, and spreading the gospel shows what we’d usually associate with God-fearing, sanctimonious people. But this message of selflessness and piety is misplaced amidst watching how these young women react to real world issues. Difficult circumstances involving alcohol and sex are transformed into one-way tickets to temptation. Adding insult to injury, the preacher’s daughters live in a house where drama is expected to boil over, unresolved issues serve as a wonderful talking point at the widely anticipating post-show reunion, and catchy zingers beg to be turned into the next trendy colloquial phrase.

Reality television continues to misrepresent the lived experiences of everyday folk. I get it. It’s fairly inexpensive to produce, and, given the marketability of certain shows (ex. Sorority Girls, Love & Hip Hop), controversy is profitable. What better way to boost ratings and save a network from obscurity! Exploiting young women battling a potpourri of psychological trauma and pressure from religious communities serves as a wonderful storyline, right? Wrong.

My discomfort is not placed in the mere existence or exposure to these topics. Pretending our young girls will not, at some point in their life, either experiment with or adopt a curious eye is not only naïve, but a passive aggressive reaction to engaging with our youth. Preacher’s Daughters capitalizes on this curiosity to draw caricatures of Black women, capitulating to America’s insatiable, voyeuristic obsession with watching the unfurling of a fallen woman.

Preacher’s Daughters initially appeared to have the potential to inaugurate an engaging, informative discussion on how we project unrealistic expectations of purity, chasteness, and perfection on daughters—and not even just the daughters of preachers. Before the show decided to transform into a Bad Girls Club-meets-The Real World hybrid, it actually focused on humanizing rather than reducing. And although the first season paints its sole Black lead in harmful stereotype after harmful stereotype, at the very least, it provided more context to their stories.

Let’s fast forward to today’s version of the show. Black women are minimized to loud-mouthed, weave-wearing Turn Up Queens who bark vulgarities at their helpless White cast mates. Meanwhile, the voyeuristic gaze forbids the audience from sympathizing with their troubles and we are meant to birth a strong aversion towards them.

Even the Preacher’s Daughters cast biographies reignite the nature of reality television, the success of which is anchored in documenting these women’s lives within the same tired narrative. Truthfully, they are given as much depth as you’d expect from a Pillsbury Biscuit.

There is Lolly White, a 24-year-old from Los Angeles, California. She is depicted as a marauder, pumping her chest and attaching negative energy at every turn.

Based on the biographies of Kristiana Flowers, an 18-year-old from Detroit, Michigan, and Tyche Crockett, a 22-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, the main idea is very clear: although they struggle with temptation (and in Kristiana’s circumstance, sexual identity), in a not-so-subtle way, they are willing to be converted by the Preacher’s Daughter’s house. Or in other words, they have potential to become the religious members the church expects them to be.

Kori Haynes’ relationship to religion is one of many hues, and, contrary to how other White cast mates are described, appears to hold the most radical understanding of Christianity. Partying and Bible study coexist in a harmonious land.

But most disturbingly, Cierra Vaughn’s description is unsettling. Cierra “began rebelling at an early age,” beginning with alcohol and a slew of other purportedly “ungodly acts.”

Rebelling at an early age? If I’m not mistaken, don’t we all show signs of rebellion? Quite frankly, why is alcohol used as a litmus test to validate her supposedly mutineer spirit of today?

However, the background information of White cast mate Kayla Wilde from California mentions that a brief moment of partying proved to be redemptive and morally enlightening. Where was that same level of care and understanding with the other cast mates? The language clearly sculpts who is allowed to seek salvation through mistakes and whose identity will be defined by them. And that framing of redemption ain’t offered to Black women, and that’s certain.

“I’ve got my Bible and I’ve got my [alcohol]!” brags Lilly in the titillating trailer. Lifetime makes no allusion to who we can expect to be the next Natalie Nunn of Preacher’s Daughters. After all, Bad Girls are glorified reality television heroes we all love to quote and we applaud their reckless behavior for its entertainment value. In either case, Black women aren’t given the opportunity to subvert this ideology. Preacher’s Daughters perpetuates the false trope of hypersexualized, unscrupulous Black women who willingly participate in, and enjoy, parading about in a reproachful manner.

Lifetime advertises a binary relationship to religion, salvation, and self-help. The Black cast members of Preacher’s Daughters are painted as either good or evil. Rebellious or subservient. Cross or approachable. Another heart wrenching example of the disproportionate opportunities given to Black women on television to showcase their narratives. They are regularly given an “either or” ultimatum and never an in-between.

These women are stripped of their humanity, picked and plucked apart by the scorching eyes of an over-judgmental society. Their mistakes, familial battles, and personal insecurities feed into the notion that preacher’s daughters are naturally rebellious and must be saved in the most drastic measure. I’m all for providing young women an opportunity for growth, but placing them in a house in Cabo, Mexico already seems like false TV pretense. Cabo is most often associated with spring break partying and wet T-shirt contests—not “mission work.” This is shown by the juxtaposition of choppy scenes of group prayers followed up by twerking at the club.

Instead of using the show as a platform to highlight the unrealistic expectations ascribed to young women, Preacher’s Daughters satisfies the voyeuristic obsession society holds on watching women at their worst behavior, even as we pile on them the moral pressure to be "good" and "respectable." I cannot imagine the harm already done thanks to yet another clumsy television show that appears too invested in gaining ratings and providing a feast for consumers. Instead of using the show as a vehicle to take an honest look at what it's like to struggle with one's faith—and comment on the unfair pressures society places on young women's respectability—Lifetime proves that they're just about the money.

I'm not here for it.

Black women are not objects. Black women are not characters. Black women’s lived experience should not be treated as cultural currency. We are not a cheap thrill. 

Photo: Still from Preacher's Daughters on Lifetime

Brittany Dawson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a senior at the University of South Carolina who is passionate about equality, social justice, and education. You may follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyJDawson.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.