The ‘Real Housewives’ Franchise Takes Its Drama to Flashy Dubai

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The camera pans across a vast expanse of desert before heading towards a man-made island lined with luxury homes in the Arabian Gulf. Strange chords ring out, as if to warn viewers: These aren’t your “Real Housewives of Orange County.”

For the first time in its 16-year history, the American franchise-turned-reality TV institution will take its glamor and soap opera overseas, specifically to the skyscraper-studded Sheikh of Dubai. While the franchise has sold countless global spinoffs from Lagos to Vancouver, none have been produced by the Bravo Network before.

‘The Real Housewives of Dubai’ debuts on Wednesday, inducting six new women into the crown jewel of catfights and marital meltdowns who are loved, binged and hated around the world.

Dubai could be around 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) from the California gated community where the reality TV empire was established in 2006, which a camel cameo in the series’ teaser makes clear.

But while Dubai’s “housewives” chat over lavish lunches, bicker over stemware and arrive at laid-back get-togethers engulfed in designer logos, it turns out they’re not that far off. from Orange County after all.

This is a message that women want to convey. Cast members say showing their extravagant and festive lives on screen debunks stereotypes about the United Arab Emirates, a Gulf Arab federation where Islam is the official religion.

“This is an opportunity for me to show the Western world, or the world at large, how a modern Arab woman can be,” Sara Al Madani, a serial entrepreneur and single mother, told The Associated Press from her original villa adorned with portraits. of his favorite non-fungible tokens and a room full of trophies commemorating his career.

Instead of the traditional black abaya, Al Madani sported a wide-brimmed suede hat. With a nose ring, a tongue piercing, and a tattoo on her arm that read “Rebel,” she was the first to admit, “I’m not your typical Arab or Emirati.”

Al Madani is the only Emirati actor – a ratio that is not surprising in a country where expats outnumber locals almost nine to one.

The other “housewives” found the glitz of Dubai from afar. Caroline Stanbury, a reality TV star who sparked drama on Bravo’s ‘Ladies of London’ series, has moved to Dubai with her children after divorcing and remarriing a former footballer.

Caroline Brooks, an Afro-Latin businesswoman from Massachusetts, found success in Dubai’s cutthroat real estate industry. “It’s very expensive to cheat on me,” she tells viewers in the trailer. “Ask my exes.”

Nina Ali, an ultra-glam Lebanese mother of three, founded Fruit Cake, a fruit cake company. Lesa Hall, a Jamaican designer of luxury maternity clothes and former beauty queen, recently posted an ice cream cone on Instagram — with 24-karat gold leaf on top.

Chanel Ayan, a Kenyan-born model who overcame prejudice in the United Arab Emirates to walk for Europe’s top fashion houses, is currently developing a makeup line. She described herself in an interview with the AP as “outgoing, funny, crazy, and incredibly hot.”

Like American franchise stars, the women of Dubai are not housewives in the traditional sense, but rather socialite business owners trying to define their brands. And Dubai, a city constantly trying to market itself on the world stage, provides a suitable setting.

With zero income tax, gleaming skyscrapers and countless shopping malls, the emirate was designed to be a global destination for the ultra-rich. Fortune seekers, rich and poor, flock to Dubai from all over the world, including migrant workers from South Asia, Africa and the Philippines who work long hours for low pay. The franchise, however, only focuses on a small subset of wealthy women.

The actors described Dubai as a westernized playground where women are free to have fun and do whatever they want.

“You’ve got glitter, you’ve got glamour, you’ve got fashion,” Stanbury said, cradling her black Pomeranian named Taz against her sequined Prada crop top. On his coffee table was “The Beautiful and Damned” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“You don’t understand how worth living in a country like this is,” she added.

But in the UAE, women are legally bound to obey their husbands under the country’s Islamic law. Despite major legal changes, swearing, drinking and kissing in public can still get you in trouble. Homosexuality remains prohibited, as does cross-dressing. The authorities quash suspicions of political dissent.

Leaders insisted that traditional values ​​and restrictions on expression in the UAE, which had long hampered the oil-rich country’s efforts to become a regional entertainment hub, have not held back housewives .

Fans can always expect booze-soaked rallies and dramatic confrontations, said Sezin Cavusoglu, the Bravo director in charge of the series. But there will be no drink throwing, table knocking over, hair pulling or ostentatious fights in public.

“They live there. They know what is acceptable and what is not,” Cavusoglu said. “They’ve always given us amazing content just by being who they are and having really honest, tough conversations.”

Dubai’s government-run media office did not respond to requests for comment from the AP. The Dubai Tourism Board and Film Commission approved the series and facilitated its production.

It’s already a stark change from more than a decade ago, when the Dubai government cited moral concerns in rejecting the producers of the ‘Sex and the City’ movie sequel.

Not everyone in the UAE is happy with the ‘Real Housewives’ star. Appalled by the rude women in bikinis in the trailer, Emirati social media influencer Majid Alamry blasted the series on Instagram last week.

“We are a tolerant country, but that doesn’t mean others can step on our morality,” he said in a viral clip. Local media also featured more down-to-earth housewives in the UAE who “demanded more accurate portrayal.”

But the reality franchise has always been escapist fare, say cast and executives, separated from the reality of ordinary viewers.

“It’s supposed to be just entertainment,” Stanbury said from her immaculate kitchen, where on a clear day she can see elephants stalking a nature reserve and the world’s tallest tower rising above the desert. “You get a glimpse of all our crazy lives.”

Follow Isabel DeBre on Twitter at www.twitter.com/isabeldebre.

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