Eboni K Williams is not afraid to go first. She’s a first-generation college graduate, the first Black lawyer at the first firm she worked for out of law school, and now the first Black woman to be cast on Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York City.
Williams’s casting marks a step forward for a series that has repeatedly received criticism for failing to cast women of color to represent New York, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan and diverse cities, where less than half of the population is white.
And the attorney, host, and best-selling author is no stranger to the bright lights of television. Williams currently cohosts State of the Culture on Sean Diddy Combs’s Revolt TV and cut her teeth on camera for national networks like Fox, VH1, CNN, and CBS. But has her courtroom argumentative know-how and proximity to previous productions prepared her for the personalities, mayhem, and high jinks that make the Real Housewives of New York City one of the most binge-worthy installments of the entire franchise?
From doling out nicknames for her RHONY castmates, accepting advice from fellow Bravo reality stars, and her plan to bring “not Black perfection, but Black excellence” to the show’s 13th season, Williams is poised and ready to take on the world, red apple in hand. Read our conversation with her, below:
Glamour: So when do you start filming and will there be any restrictions due to COVID-19?
Eboni K Williams: We started filming a few weeks ago, and we’re absolutely taking every precaution with COVID protocol. I take that very personally and seriously because I actually had a case of COVID. I was very sick for about six weeks back in April. Thank God I didn’t have to be hospitalized, but I had no sense of taste or smell for about six weeks. I had extreme body aches. It was tough. And so, personally, I’m very hyper-vigilant when it comes to respecting protocols and testing and procedure. I want to give a shout-out to Bravo and the entire production company because they’re taking it extremely seriously and taking every precaution.
Eboni k Williams Discussion
Glad to hear you’ve started filming and that you’re able to do so safely. I’m sure Bravo fans will be happy to hear that as well. Were you a fan of Real Housewives of New York? What made you decide to join the cast?
I am an unapologetic and proud Bravo fan, and I’m a fan of the franchise. I’ve been watching Real Housewives since it originated with Orange County some 15 or 16 years ago. I’ve seen every episode of RHONY as well, and RHONY really was always one of my favorite franchises because it represents boss women. New Yorkers, we have an edge. I’m a Southern transplant to New York, but I’ve been here for about six years now and it’s the tempo, it’s the pace, it’s the direct way in which we communicate with each other and get shit done. That really attracted me to the franchise and the whole history of the vast majority of women that have held an apple.
When the opportunity arose, I had a lot of consideration around it. I’m a lawyer, so I’m classically trained in risk assessment and pros and cons and weighing things out. As fantastic and legendary as the franchise is, it was a very obvious point for one of the most predominant and preeminent cities in the world—which is New York City, that has a 26% Black populace and almost 30% Hispanic populace—to not have a single Black woman ever hold an apple. It just could no longer be the case. I feel blessed and uniquely positioned to show up and fill this gap and fill this void that’s long overdue. I’m excited to do this and really make season 13 of RHONY something very special.
As Black women, we rarely just represent ourselves when it comes to navigating predominately white spaces. Does it feel daunting to know that you won’t just be representing yourself on RHONY but all Black women?
You’re exactly right about that. I have a degree in Black studies from UNC-Chapel Hill, my bachelor’s, and we talked about this in undergrad. The reality of when you are a minority of any kind is that you don’t get to just show up individually. You are constantly representative of the collective. It’s definitely not lost on me, and I call it my gracious responsibility as a Black woman. I’m not new to this. I’m new to reality television, but I’m not new to being the collective representative of Black womanhood. Frankly, I’ve been the first of a lot of things. When I first started practicing law, I was the first Black woman attorney and the only Black attorney, male or female, in my first law firm.
I know what it is to show up in all white spaces and having to be mindful of everything you say, everything you do, the way you show up aesthetically. That’s very top of mind for me as I embark on season 13 of this platform, and I’m very excited to do it. Am I going to be the perfect representation of Black womanhood? Absolutely not. But I’m going to give it my damn best try.
I am so proud of Black women, who we have been historically, and who we are in this exact moment. Whether it’s Kamala Harris on this presidential ticket as a vice-presidential candidate, whether it’s Megan Thee Stallion and what she is doing for Black women in an unconventional but important way with messages around Black women matter. To just be a part of this national narrative of Black womanhood is my privilege. It really is. I love it. I’m excited about it.
We’re excited about having representation on the cast. Speaking of, how have you been getting along with the other cast members on the show? Does it feel good to start building those relationships?
It feels great. Going into this, I had an internal talk with myself. Although I’m a fan and I’ve seen every episode of RHONY, I intentionally divorced myself from that perception as I went into this experience. This is my real life, and I owe it to myself, I owe it to my castmates, and frankly, I owe it to our viewers to show up as a blank canvas in terms of my relationships and ability to connect with these women individually and organically and authentically.
It’s been interesting so far. [Laughs.] Overall, I would say it’s been positive. You guys will see when the show airs. These are very strong personalities. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. These women show up in their own level of dynamic auras, and I’m a force as well. You combine all of that into the gumbo pot and it makes for a lot of dynamics. But so far so good.
Leah McSweeney and I have been hanging out a lot off-camera outside of filming because we have a lot of organic, natural things in common beyond our age. We come from very different backgrounds. Eboni k Williams a born-and-bred New Yorker, and I’m definitely a proud daughter of the South from a single-parent background, first-generation college graduate, all kinds of stuff that make our stories very different, but there’s a lot of commonality in the way we show up and navigate this space as women.
Then there’s Luann, who I’ve known casually throughout the years. We kind of found ourselves in similar social circles sometimes, and Eboni k Williams great. That’s been fun hanging out with her in this capacity. And listen, I’m just meeting Ramona [Singer] and Sonja [Morgan]. I call them Frick and Frack. They are a powerhouse duo in their own right. They’ve been at it for 20-plus years in terms of their relationship and their friendship with each other. So sometimes it’s a little hard to get in there when you’re the newbie, and this thing has been a well-oiled machine for long before I got here. Ramona and Sonja, in particular, are very, very close and that’s cool. That’s great. I love best friendships. But does it feel like a third wheel type of thing sometimes? A little bit. They have been very gracious thus far in terms of at least being open to getting to know me. I think that’s a good place to start.
I know you’re no stranger to TV, but have any of your current castmates or even previous Housewives or Bravo celebrities given you advice on handling this new level of visibility and celebrity?
Yeah, absolutely. You don’t go into this thing in a vacuum. This is a whole universe at play, and I’ve been blessed to have preexisting friendships with Quad [Webb-Luncefordquad] from Married to Medicine. Quad called and offered her congratulations and some advice, which was, simply, “Be yourself. You are enough. Never feel any need to be extra or do the most.” She knows me and she knows the woman that I am and how I show up in spaces organically. And Eboni k Williams said, “Your addition to this particular show, with this particular group of women, is no accident, and knowing what I know about you this is going to be exactly what the franchise needs for the franchise, but also for you.”
Speaking of what you add to the franchise, I know Bravo fans are very vocal, particularly online. How has the reception been so far?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive. I don’t take that for granted for one second because Bravo fans are loyal, they are vocal, and they have strong, strong opinions. To be received with open arms, a lot of anticipation, a lot of curiosity, a lot of celebration…I think it’s bigger than me personally. It’s what I can represent at this moment for this franchise and for our society. I think people are just like, “It’s about time” and excited to see what it’s gonna look like going forward. I’m thrilled.
I know outside of the series you’re about to launch a new podcast, Holding Court With Eboni K Williams. What can we expect, and what are you most excited to share?
It’s about taking big, huge national headlines, whether they are social justice headlines, the killing of our unarmed brothers and sisters, or whether it’s celebrity justice headlines, like the shooting of Megan Thee Stallion and what’s going on with Tory Lanez and what’s going on this fall when R. Kelly is back in court. Looking at all of that and using those headlines to break down the core and the nitty-gritty of what’s going on at the legal nexus. Then, most importantly, applying that to everyday folks. How does that advance help me and my loved ones navigate the American justice system? That’s what Holding Court is about.
Before we go, I did want to ask one more very important question: Have you chosen your Housewives tagline?
I have not decided on a final tagline, but I have definitely been on my iPhone and have some notes for some potential taglines. So the wheels are actively turning.