'Real Housewives of Dubai' review: a reality show that doesn't represent real life in UAE

The show started with a disclaimer that it 'does not represent Emirati society as a whole'

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After releasing a controversial trailer last month, Bravo’s Real Housewives of Dubai has been broadcast around the world. And, if the first episode is anything to go by, it is proof that trailers are masterclasses in editing, condensing a majority of salacious moments from the season into a three-minute video.

The first episode is more of a fizzle than a firework. Elements of Real Housewives franchise lore make the cut — manufactured drama, excessive displays of wealth and lunches focused squarely on gossip. However, Real Housewives of Dubai has its own distinct beginning.

Before the episode begins, there is a disclaimer: “The views, information or opinions expressed in this show belong solely to the individuals displayed and do not represent those of Emirati society as a whole.

“The relevant authorities are not responsible and do not verify the accuracy of the information contained in the show. The primary purpose of this series is to entertain.”

'They obviously haven't been to Dubai'

The episode starts in Arabic, with Sara Al Madani saying: “I’m blessed that I grew up in Dubai and saw it before it became Dubai and after it became Dubai.” Ajman-born Al Madani is the only Emirati cast member.

A brief history of the emirate is then offered, with footage from 1966 contrasted with scenes shot along Sheikh Zayed Road today.

Only then do Al Madani’s fellow housewives — Nina Ali, Chanel Ayan, Caroline Brooks, Lesa Milan and Caroline Stanbury — come in.

The first portion of the show centres on modern life in the city, with plenty of stock footage of Palm Jumeirah, Burj Khalifa and Dubai Marina edited in.

“[It's] only 12 per cent of the local population that makes up Dubai,” says Brooks. “The other 88 per cent is expats. Forget about the new Middle East, this is the new world.”

Each cast member explains why she loves Dubai — mainly reflecting on the business opportunities here and how multicultural the city is.

Gender roles are touched upon, as an off-screen producer says to Ali: “Most people think women in Dubai are submissive.” To which she replies: “They obviously haven’t been to Dubai.”

Relentless displays of wealth

The first episode introduces the six women, each with roughly the same amount of screen time.

A stereotypical side of Dubai is shown via sports cars, sweeping stock footage of mansions and gold, and gold diggers are referenced a number of times.

A commonality between the six women is honed in on, and that's their family focus.

Ayan is seen playing traditional Kenyan games with her son Taj, 16, on the set of a photoshoot, with designer Furne One in the background; Ali and Al Madani take their collective four children for a day out to the Dubai Frame; and both Brooks and Milan have pool days with their children.

During the day out, Al Madani speaks to the children almost exclusively in Arabic and talks about preserving local traditions and passing them on to the youngsters, saying: “I have to keep doing it because I love our culture.”

Milan, who is Jamaican-American with a British husband and three sons, speaks profoundly about the safety the UAE offers, saying: “Dubai is safe, especially for little black boys … that is actually the main reason I am here.”

Milan seems as though she is going to be the voice of reason throughout the series, but also orders $1,200 of ice to chill her pool.

While the show is clearly hyper-edited, those editing skills fall short a couple of times. The most notable example to UAE residents is likely to be when Brooks says she has two Dubai homes, one in Jumeirah and one in Damac Hills. While she is talking, a sweeping shot of Palm Jumeirah appears on screen, instead of Jumeirah.

Replicated Real Housewives dynamic

In the first episode, the show seems to struggle to find its place. Is it a carbon copy of other Real Housewives shows, with innuendo and fighting? They are all elements of the first episode.

But it also seems to be trying hard to focus on Dubai as a family-focused destination, where six self-made women can enjoy the riches of the city. Although there must have been better ways to do that on international TV.

The closest the show veers into traditional Real Housewives territory in terms of feuds and drama is at the end, when Ali organises a dinner for all six women at Ce La Vi. This is the first time they are all together, as Ayan and Al Madani weren’t invited toStanbury’s bachelorette party earlier in the episode. The party makes up the majority of dinner party conversation, much to the dismay of Ayan, who seems to have positioned herself as the instigator of friction with her cast mates and voices her frustrations.

The meal serves as a reminder that we’re watching a semi-scripted version of six people’s supposed reality in Dubai. It is a show that — almost unanimously — reflects the reality of no one actually living here.

The meal also offers one of the few comedic moments in the show, with Ali — a self-described hippy — waving a handful of sage around in a bid to “cleanse the energy” as the women argue.

It’s going to take an awful lot more sage.

Updated: June 02, 2022, 9:19 AM