Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard Is Pure Chaos & We Need More Of It

Photo: Courtesy of Bravo.
In March 2020, reality television titan Bravo announced that it would be taking its talents to the hallowed grounds of Martha’s Vineyard for a spinoff of Summer House, a (formerly) fun reality show about a group of friends vacationing in the Hamptons for the summer. The twist? The cast of Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard would be entirely made up of Black people — a fact that had real Bravo fans excited and not-so-closeted racists really mad. (Turns out, bigots only pretend to understand inclusion when they’re the ones being left out of something.) Martha’s Vineyard was the latest in a slate of innovative inclusive programming at Bravo following the backlash it faced in 2020 as fans began a discourse about racial inequality and underrepresentation, and the stakes were high for the new series as one of the few Bravo offerings with an all-Black cast. Could Martha’s Vineyard be the network’s next big thing? And, more importantly, will it get another season?
The original Summer House was an offshoot of the popular Bravo staple Vanderpump Rules and chronicled the summer exploits of a group of young New Yorkers making the commute to the Hamptons every weekend to day-drink, party, and occasionally argue on repeat. Until recently, it was the network’s dark horse, but some fans (myself included) were growing tired of the staleness of the drama and, frankly, its whiteness. Despite pulling castmates from one of the most diverse cities in the country, five whole seasons passed before the show got its first Black housemate, ER nurse/model Ciara Miller. More Black people and people of color were eventually invited to the summer house over the course of the next few seasons, giving way to conversations about racial dynamics and their experiences but to many, the new additions felt like an afterthought or a reaction to the controversy. 
Enter Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard, a show that was crystal clear about its intention from its May premiere: showcasing parts of the tight-knit Black community in Martha’s Vineyard (and having a lot of fun). In the series’ early stages, Bravo was reportedly already looking into the rich culture of the tiny Massachusetts island, and it found a near-perfect cast in the unique friendship circle of newlyweds Silas and Jasmine Cooper. The Coopers, though not native to the area — a point of major contention for some of the community’s residents —  have been vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard for years, and they are dedicated to highlighting the Black excellence in the area. (If you were to take a shot of tequila every time Jasmine says “Black excellence” each episode, you’d have a violent hangover in the morning.)
“We started doing group trips to Martha’s Vineyard in 2020, and from there, our group just started getting bigger and bigger,” Jasmine told R29 Unbothered of her ties to the Vineyard and the Bravo show’s origins in a virtual interview. “It was like, ‘Oh, Black people in Martha’s Vineyard’, and we started having conversations. At first, Silas and I thought we were just giving information about the island — we’re big history buffs — so we were happy to talk about its history, but then the team saw that we were already hosting these trips and wanted to recreate what we were already doing.”
Martha’s Vineyard might have one of the biggest casts on Bravo, and Jasmine says that the show’s headcount (a whopping 12 people, not counting the revolving door of weekend additions and Milo, the house dog) is actually a lot more downsized than her usual guestlist. Each of the housemates on the show brings something new and interesting to the table, and they're all loosely connected to the Coopers in some way or another. As the hosts, Silas and Jasmine are also the house’s Mom and Dad (sometimes against their housemates’ wishes), still trying to work out the kinks in their sometimes very different approaches to married life. There’s Amir Lancaster, the half-Black, half-Persian hottie learning more about his roots while making moves on Jill-of-all-trades Jordan Emanuel, Jasmine’s “sister-cousin.” Besties Bria Fleming and Shanice Henderson are party girls through and through, but their relationship takes a turn when boundaries are crossed. Nick Arrington and Alex Tyree are living their best lives on this trip, trying to make connections as kinda-sorta-maybe bachelors while latecomers Jason Lyke and Summer Marie Thomas attempt to bring peace and tranquility to counter the constant chaos of the house (to mixed results). Serving as the resident voice of reason (with the best tweets) is attorney and civil rights activist Preston Mitchum.
Suffice to say, there’s a lot going on on this show every single episode. It’s not all wild nights out at the bar, macaroni and cheese, heavy sexual tension, and late night heart-to-hearts — things get stressful in this house — and as a real-life friend circle, navigating the fallout from unseen moments and confessionals can be…tough. Shocker: shading your friends on national TV for two weeks straight does have its repercussions.

If we consider Martha's Vineyard to be this summer oasis of Blackness, then I believe that every variety of Black person should be able to go to the Vineyard...I think all of us are worthy enough to go and experience it.

preston mitchum
“We're reliving the moments in real time with everybody else, so of course it's going to bring up different feelings for all of us,” says Jasmine. “I’m seeing myself from other people’s standpoint…it’s all a discovery.”
“The reality is there are some people who I think can take it, and there are others who can't,” reveals Preston, who is also an attorney and civil rights activist. “But I'm always okay with having conversations that need to be reconciled. If there are moments that are an ouch moment for you, let's talk about it. But that comes with us doing this work. We all signed up to do the exact same show, good times and bad.”
Even with all the drama that comes with personalities mixing and mingling on screen, we’re also fortunate enough to also learn more about the powerful history of Oak Bluffs (colloquially known as “The Inkwell”), the Black community of Martha’s Vineyard. It was notably populated by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head until the first Black people arrived to the shores of the Massachusetts colony in the 1800s, and after the state became one of the first to adopt the 13th Amendment, more waves of indentured servants and whalers settled into the area summer after summer until it became noticeably Blacker than the rest of the island. There, a distinctive branch of Black culture was born. On Martha’s Vineyard, we see the housemates partake in all the things that the island has to offer, happily celebrating their human right to just relax — a right its first residents were fighting so hard to protect. 
There are some who haven’t taken as warmly to Martha’s Vineyard, begrudging the show for casting people who aren’t actually local to the island. (Even the Obamas were notoriously criticized for buying a home in the Vineyard despite being a former First Family.) And it makes perfect sense that many would be so protective of their home; Black enclaves like Martha’s Vineyard have often experienced negative cultural and socioeconomic shifts because of the introduction of outsiders. (Gentrification ain’t no joke.) The cast acknowledges that wariness and even understands it, but some of the housemates are nudging naysayers to unpack their hesitations just a little bit more: are we preserving the island itself or the elitism that many identify it with?
“If we consider Martha's Vineyard to be this summer oasis of Blackness, then I believe that every variety of Black person should be able to go to the Vineyard, but there are many who don't,” says Preston. “If we're being honest, some of that is probably shrouded in the requirements of ‘Black excellence’ and who we deem excellent to be on the island. A lot of people who feel like they’re the creme de la creme are also the gatekeepers to this community, but I think all of us are worthy enough to go and experience it. And this is why I push back lovingly on the notion of Black excellence — it gets us into these conversations that I don't find particularly helpful or useful to us as a people.”
“I respect everyone’s feelings, and I get that there are a lot of concerns,” Jasmine adds. “I totally understand that the locals are different from the people who summer on the island, and the people who have family homes there are very different from Silas and I, who are just grateful to come every year. But I respect the history — I know the history. And at the same time, just being real, we're representing our friend group, not the whole island. We would never pretend to represent everybody on the island, but what’s so special about this group is that all of us are so different. While we may not represent the entirety of the island, this show is about Black folk having fun — a win is a win! Hopefully, whether people from the island are watching the show or not, they can feel loved on and appreciated and seen, and they know that Martha’s Vineyard is the thirteenth character here.”

While we may not represent the entirety of the island, this show is about Black folk having fun — a win is a win!

jasmine ellis-cooper
As one of the few all-Black casts on Bravo, it’s natural that some of the Martha’s Vineyard stars are feeling the weight of the burden of bringing the Black safe haven into the mainstream, but I’d say that they did the island proud. It’s not the first TV offering to zero in on the one-of-a-kind community — the now-canceled series Our Kind of People and the rom-com Jumping the Broom were also set in the Vineyard — yet it was still fresh and captivating from its premiere to its season finale, which aired last night. Most of the fans tuning into the Bravo reality series have never been to Martha’s Vineyard, but we connected almost immediately with the colorful cast of young people just looking to have a good time nonetheless. (Some cast members are more likable than others. I have notes on next seasons’ housemates, Bravo. Call me.) 
Should the show get the second season (or five — seriously, if we can watch Below Deck for a million seasons, we can get another season of Martha’s Vineyard), fans should anticipate the same chaotic energy with just a few tweaks here and there. Preston hopes that a new season of the series will bring even more representation to our screen, specifically Black queer representation, and Jasmine, is vowing to stay out of people’s business and just focus more on her own enjoyment. We’ll see about that, girl.
Watch the entire season of Summer House: Martha’s Vineyard, now streaming on Peacock. 

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