Black Twitter wasted no time expressing its distaste for VH1's new show, "Sorority Sisters."
Now, they've got a pretty powerful ally.
The National Pan-Hellenic Council, the governing body of all nine historically African-American fraternities and sororities, issued an official statement Thursday condemning the program and urging VH1 to "carefully consider the ramifications of such irresponsible programming that continues to exploit and degrade the image of African-American women."
Exactly what those ramifications might be, the statement doesn't say. It does, however, promise that each organization's legal counsels are "taking all appropriate steps to ensure that we protect the legacy of our organizations."
In the tradition of VH1 reality programming, "Sorority Sisters" follows the lives of nine Atlanta area women. But in this case, the women aren't wives of professional athletes or rap stars. Instead, these women are members of the four historically black sororities, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
If the season previews are any indication, "Sorority Sisters" won't spotlight the community service and civic engagement that these organizations pride themselves on. Instead, it will display the same name-calling, drink-tossing, fighting and overall un-sisterly behavior reality television is known for.
While VH1 makes it clear that the show is not affiliated with nor sponsored by any of the four sororities, cast members openly declare their membership and display known sorority hand symbols and calls. The members wear sorority colors, but notably absent from the program is any identifiable Greek paraphernalia.
Before the show even emerged from the planning stages, online petitions and protests sprung up demanding VH1 scrap the project. Many expressed concerns the show would make a mockery of black Greek life.
Reynoir Lewis, a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., launched an anti-"Sorority Sisters" petition on Moveon.org that has garnered more than 75,000 signatures to date. In an email to Fusion, Lewis says he launched the petition after seeing the original trailer for "Sorority Girls" on Facebook.
"It had no history of the organizations, no service, no sisterhood," Lewis said. "It added no value to the image of African-American women on television, so I went after it."
While he had no idea the petition would gain such steam, he says it has sparked an intelligent debate about going after similar programs which paint an unflattering picture of African-American and Latino women.
Best known for the "Love and Hip Hop" and "Basketball Wives" franchises, VH1's formulaic approach to reality programming has featured a revolving cast of mainly African-American and Latino women engaging in the program's signature brand of temptation, love and drama - but, mostly drama.
It's proven to be ratings gold for the network. According to a post on VH1's blog, more than 3.8 million viewers tuned in to the season 3 premiere of "Love and Hip Hop: Atlanta" back in May, making it the #1 rated cable network show in its time slot among adult women aged 18-49.
It was also rated as the #1 most social show on television the night it premiered, with a total of 1.66 million tweets. That was three times as many tweets as the NBA Playoffs Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game, the 2nd most social show.
So with all the support for VH1's other reality programming shows, critics have been quick to point out the irony over the "Sorority Sisters" outrage.
HuffPostLive host Marc Lamont Hill, himself a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., took to Twitter to call out what he described as "selective indignation" among the show's critics.
He and others argue that all of these programs follow the same formula and provide an almost identically embarrassing depiction of African-American and Latino women. Thus, outrage over one but not the others could be interpreted as hypocritical, he said.
The issue for many members and supporters of black Greek letter organizations is that while the cast members of VH1's other programs represent themselves, the cast members of "Sorority Sisters" represent organizations that thousands of men and women claim as their own.
While few people can say they're married to a hip hop star or professional athlete, thousands of people claim membership in these fraternities and sororities and they take that commitment seriously.
"Love and Hip Hop" star K. Michelle, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., echoed these sentiments in a recent radio interview with Baltimore's 92Q, calling the show "inappropriate."
"Some things should be sacred for us," she said. "The sororities and fraternities are the one thing we looked to in college that uplift the community."
K.Michelle went on to admit that she has "acted a fool" on TV, but pointed out that it was never done in the name of her sorority. "You don't get on TV in the name of women that came before us and do what you're doing. I have no respect for those women."
Lewis understands the response to "Sorority Sisters," but would like to see that same passion applied more broadly.
"The reason 'Sorority Sisters' got such a strong response is because VH1 decided to target such a close knit community, so the common ground was that much stronger," he said via email. "The fight is not one for just African-American women, or just women, but for society overall to start setting limits on what we will tolerate in regards to programming or how cultures are presented."
So far, VH1 seems pretty unphased by the controversy, saying in a statement issued to The Washington Post that there are "no plans to change the series." This, despite a growing list of advertisers including Carmex, Sprint and Hallmark yanking their ads from the program after feeling the heat on Twitter.
"Selma" director Ava DuVernay, a prominent member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., expressed on Twitter she would request ads for the film be pulled from the show.
Author and member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Lawrence Ross is spearheading a social media campaign to target advertisers directly, telling Black America Web that "brands do not want to be associated with negativity."
Still, with the #BoycottSororitySisters campaign going strong, VH1 stands by the program. In a statement, the network noted that the premiere episode of "Sorority Girls" was seen by 1.3 million viewers and was the No. 1 non-sports cable program in that time period among women ages 18 to 49.
Even with the harsh criticism, there is also a growing movement in support of "Sorority Sisters." Fans of the show have taken to Twitter in support of the cast members, saying they'll continue to watch. Some have praised the show for spotlighting successful, entrepreneurial women who have made a name for themselves outside of the music and sports industries.
I think sorority sisters is positive. Presents African-American women in a positive way. #sororitysisters
— Aaliyah (@tateaaliyah) December 16, 2014
Love it or hate it, the ladies are probably here to stay.
The second installment of VH1's "Sorority Sisters" is set to air on Monday.