We need to talk about the Real Housewives of Melbourne reunion.
While a fair bit of it was bleeped out, one squabble stood out among the usual squealing and screaming, the cushions and cue cards lobbed through the air.
In a moment that’s been building for three seasons, Gamble Wolfe (née Breaux) slammed cast mate Lydia Schiavello for her “blatant racism” in interacting with her Filipina housemaid, Joanna.
And it’s about time.
Last season, Schiavello came under fire for her comments directed at Joanna’s parents, Marina and Dario, when she visited them during a group getaway in the Philippines. “She's MY daughter,” she informed Joanna's mother, going to pains to enunciate each word as patronisingly as possible. “In Australia, she’s MY daughter.”
That’s not even the worst part. Over the last couple of seasons, we’ve seen Lydia spout racial slurs – “choong choong, not ching ching!” – as well as joking (we think? We’re not totally sure) that Joanna can never decide to cut and run because she has her passport stashed away somewhere, and basically doing nothing to dispel stereotypes about rich white employers with more digits in their bank accounts than brain cells.
But back to the reunion. At one stage, she announced that Joanna would do “anything” for her, to which Jackie sarcastically snapped back, “Would she wipe your ass as well?”
Lydia’s response? “She would – if I asked her to, she would,” she replied, smirking to herself. Cue a collective groan from all the other women.
Thankfully, this shameless demonstration of white privilege (or, let’s be honest, downright denigration) hasn’t gone unnoticed – or unmocked – by viewers.
A parody Twitter account, @SlaveJoanna, sprung up earlier this year, leading to gems like, “Wow, such wonderful birthday, Miss Lydia allow me ten minute PAID lunch break,” and, “Master Lydia is upset at me for driving her through an ungentrified neighbourhood on the way to the salon.”
One can’t help but wonder whether Schiavello doesn’t keep Joanna around to fulfil some sort of saviour fantasy where she gets to play the benevolent employer. Like the Celia to her Minny, if you’ve ever watched The Help.
To be fair, Joanna – the real Joanna – has only ever sung her employer’s praises, though that may have something to do with the heavily skewed power dynamics of their relationship, like a lesser form of Stockholm Syndrome.
By all appearances, Joanna’s seemingly just another accessory in Schiavello’s already expansive wardrobe, little more than something to be showed off, rather than the authentic human being she is.
In the words of @SlaveJoanna: “Miss Lydia feel so bad that she decide she want something to boost her self-esteem, so she order me to put on 5kg.”