The trials and tribulations of the women on WE tv's new Houston-based reality show, Sisters in Law, are beyond anything imagined on your fluffy Real Housewives or Jersey Shore series. These women's lives — laced with incest, rape and suicides —are a testament to their strength in overcoming harsh realities.
But you'll have to watch the series, which premieres Thursday at 9 pm on the cable channel, to its eight-segment end to learn about all the challenges these successful lawyers have conquered on their road to success.
As public defender Juanita Jackson says, "Our back story, you get it in bits and pieces. So without giving away any spoilers, you do learn about us and our background a bit at a time, like you do in real life. You will get to know us."
Jackson and four of the series stars sat down with CultureMap to talk about the program, which they prefer to describe as docu-reality because their roles are far and above the "bunch of cackling bitches fighting" (their words) that populate typical reality shows.
"We like to say docu-reality. It makes me feel better because when I think 'reality,' I think hair pulling," says criminal attorney and former city councilwoman Jolanda Jones. "In those shows, if they're successful, they're successful because they married some rich guy or they are the baby momma of some rich guy or they're a video vixen.
"I think that's fine but I wanted to be part of a show that showed black women who weren't angry as we're often portrayed in the media and black women who all started from nothing."
What sets this apart from the typical women's reality series is the fact that the protagonists are professionals, making their own way, and the cases that they handle are put out there complete with courtroom footage, interviews with accused murderers and celebrations of multi-million dollar verdicts.
"So we are going to be seen on the show representing our clients, allowing viewers to go behind the scenes, see us interacting with our clients in court and that brings something never seen before on television," says civil attorney Rhonda Wills. "But it's also combined with the fact of the sisterhood. We are really like family. We bicker like sisters. We argue like sisters. We fight like sisters. But we also have each other's backs just like sisters do."
The women say that the program was not scripted and the most difficult aspect of the production was being followed morning, noon and night for 10 weeks. It was particularly challenging for 30-year-old Tiya Foley, who admits that watching reality TV is her "guilty pleasure." A young mother and wife, she is an associate attorney, a job in which "a lot falls on your shoulders."
Foley best expressed the single aspiration shared by each of the six attorneys. " I hope that the audience can hold onto the very real aspects of the show — our involvement in the legal profession. And I hope that we can set a great example for young girls and let them know that you can be anything in the world that you want to be whether it's an attorney, a doctor, anything."
As a local activist, Jones adds to the conversation, "I wanted to be a role model to people who otherwise would think that we were going to end up on welfare or in jail, like a lot of people in my family. You can start off in the ghetto and you can aspire and you can get elected to public office. You can be on TV for something positive, not something negative.
"I think it's really, really important, especially with the state of race relations in this country and people's perception of black women that we show that we can be more. We can do more. We contribute to humanity in a substantive way not a superficial way."
Sisters in Law premieres at 9 pm Thursday on WE tv.