Bravo’s new series To Rome for Love is the latest reality show that showcases middle-aged women who have had bad luck in romance—but it has a twist. The premise of the show is based on the stereotype that Italian men love Black women, and professional love guru Diann Valentine takes lovelorn Black women to Italy in search of love. And we get to tag along to a swanky, fully furnished villa for five weeks to see whether this show dispels or proves this age-old tale.
All of the women on the show are absolutely gorgeous. And it is significant to see that all of the women on the show have darker complexions. This kind of representation helps to develop the notions of what is desirable. The show begins with the cast of Black women acknowledging the stereotypes that surround them and us as a whole. They highlight issues such as being seen as too outspoken in the way that it often incorrectly translates to being “ghetto and rude.”
The women seem excited to get away from the States and experience a new caliber of man—ones who find them sultry, new, and exciting. However, the show in the first few episodes misses the opportunity to address an underlying current of fetishism. The age-old myth of Italian men loving Black women has been a trope in the media, like the classic story of A Bronx Tale, and somehow this trope has stuck around. But To Rome with Love narrowly avoids taking the conversation there. On the show the women appear to be having a good time. Some of the housemates are more proper than others. And some are super thirsty and excited to be out of the house and overseas, away from their children, and on dates.
The age-old myth of Italian men loving Black women has been a trope that has stuck around.
Featured on the cast is Gina Neely, a newly divorced cooking-show personality who built a brand on being in a power couple with her ex. And there’s the usual array of Bravo characters: the seemingly promiscuous character caught smooching a new Italian every episode (Shay), a Jesus freak who prays at every opportunity (Mercedes), the diva (Ashley), and, worst of all, the “sad, hopeless big girl” (Nakita).
Though this show can feel like another cookie-cutter reality show, there’s a self-help vibe when Diann speaks about this being a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. In the first episode, we see Nakita has sadly fallen into the trap of being depicted as the sad fat girl. She has a small breakdown, lamenting through tears that she gave her ex all her “good skinny years.” This is problematic for obvious reasons but sad because it feels like a missed opportunity to show how fat women can believe they deserve love instead of treating fatness as a quality that makes women lose their swag. But this scene showed us how the other women rallied around Nakita, encouraging her to cry it out and to affirm that she deserves better. “And look at all these men tonight who looked at you as a beautiful woman,” Gina said to Nakita.
On the bright side, this scene offered something else in seeing this character’s humanity, even though I disagree with the source of her pain being that she is fat. It was interesting to see the persona of a “strong Black woman” shed on reality TV, and to see the women try to rebuild one another.
Along with the adventures of the heroines in this program, audiences also get to see the beauty of Italy. Whether these women find long-lasting love in five weeks is less important to me than the fact they have an opportunity to experience another part of the world. And I will watch to see how they all grow and change by the end.