The “True Housewives” franchise takes its drama to vibrant Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The camera is guided across a vast desert before heading to an artificial …

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The camera is guided through a vast desert before heading to an artificial island in the Persian Gulf, besieged by luxury homes. Terrible chords ring, as if warning the audience: this is not your “True Housewives of Orange County.”

For the first time in its 16-year history, the American franchise, which has become an institution of reality television, will transfer its glamor and soap opera abroad – in particular, in the Sheikh of Dubai, dotted with skyscrapers. Although the franchise has sold countless global complementary products from Lagos to Vancouver, none of them have been created by the Bravo network before.

“Real Housewives of Dubai” debuts on Wednesday, introducing six new women to the crown jewel of a cat-fighting and marriage breakdown network that is loved, drunk and hated around the world.

Dubai may be located about 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) from the California community, where in 2006 the empire premiered a reality show that clearly shows a camel cameo in the teaser series.

But when Dubai’s “housewives” gossip about lavish dinners, argue over drinks, and come to casual meetings covered in designer logos, it turns out they’re not that far from Orange County.

This is the message that women want to convey. The actors say showing off their extravagant, hard lives on screen debunks stereotypes about the United Arab Emirates, a federation of Arab countries in the Persian Gulf where Islam is the official religion.

“For me, this is an opportunity to show the Western world or the world at large what a modern Arab woman can be,” said Sarah Al Madani, a serial entrepreneur and single mother, in an interview with the Associated Press from her quaint villa decorated with portraits. her favorite irreplaceable tokens and a room full of trophies in memory of her career.

Instead of the traditional black oboe in Al Madani was a wide-brimmed suede hat. With a ring on her nose, a piercing on her tongue and a tattoo on her arm with the inscription “Rebel”, she was the first to admit: “I’m not a typical Arab or Emirate.”

Al Madani – the only actor from the Emirates – this ratio is not a surprise in a country where the number of immigrants exceeds the number of locals by almost nine to one.

Other “housewives” have found the splendor of Dubai from afar. Caroline Stanbury, the reality star who sped up the drama in the Bravo series “London Houses”, moved to Dubai with her children after a divorce and remarriage with the former footballer.

Caroline Brooks, an African-Latin American businesswoman from Massachusetts, has succeeded in heading the Dubai real estate industry. “It’s very expensive to deceive me,” she told viewers in the trailer. “Ask my ex.”

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

Chanel Ayan, a fashion model of Kenyan descent who overcame superstitions in the UAE to go to leading European fashion houses, is now developing a makeup line. She described herself in an AP interview as “relevant, funny, insane and insanely hot”.

Like American franchise stars, women in Dubai are not housewives in the traditional sense, but rather owners of the world trying to define their brands. And Dubai, a city that is constantly trying to expose itself on the world stage, provides the appropriate background.

With zero income tax, gleaming skyscrapers and countless shopping malls the emirate has been designed to become a global destination for the super-rich. Wealth seekers, rich and poor, flock to Dubai from around the world, including migrant workers from South Asia, Africa and the Philippines who work long hours for low wages. The franchise, however, focuses on only a tiny fraction of wealthy women.

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

“You have glamor, you have glamor, you have fashion,” Stanberry said, pressing her black Pomeranian Spitz nicknamed Taz to the sequins of the Prada top. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Beautiful and Cursed” was on her coffee table.

“You do not understand how much it costs to live in such a country,” she added.

But in the UAE, women are legally obliged to obey their husbands under Islamic law. Despite major legislative changes, swearing, drunkenness and kissing in public can still cause trouble. Homosexuality remains banned, as is cross-dressing. Authorities are eliminating allusions to political dissent.

The leaders insisted that the UAE’s traditional values ​​and speech restrictions, which have long hampered the country’s oil-rich efforts to become a regional entertainment hub, have not deterred housewives.

Fans are still waiting for alcohol rallies and dramatic confrontations, said Cezin Cavusoglu, Bravo’s executive director in charge of the series. But there will be no drinking, flipping the table, pulling hair or otherwise showing fights in public.

“They live there. They know what is permissible and what is not, ”Cavusoglu said. “They still gave us amazing content, just being who they are, and had really honest and challenging conversations.”

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

This is a sharp shift from more than a decade ago, when the Dubai government cited moral concerns, denying the producers of the sequel to “Sex in the Big City.”

Not everyone in the UAE is happy when the focus is on “Real Housewives”. Shocked by ugly women in bikinis in the trailer, social media participant from the Emirates Majid Alamri last week toppled the series on Instagram.

“We are a tolerant country, but that does not mean that others can follow our morals,” he said in a viral video. Local media also profiled more mundane housewives in the UAE who “demanded a more accurate representation”.

But the reality franchise has always been an escape, as actors and executives say, detached from the reality of ordinary viewers.

“It should be just fun,” Stanberry said from her clean kitchen, where on a clear day she can see elephants chasing the reserve and the world’s tallest tower towering over the desert. “You guys get an idea of ​​all our crazy lives.”


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