Now that we’ve got our first real glimpse of Russian Dolls, the new Brighton Beach-based reality show to air on Lifetime, it was just a matter of time until the reviews came in from Russian leaders. After we published the video on Friday, Ari Kagan – whose credentials in the Russian-speaking community include a journalism career, a one-time candidacy for the State Assembly, being the current liaison to the Russian-speaking community for Comptroller Liu, and a rumored contender for Michael Nelson’s City Council seat – sent us the following note condemning the show:
There is no question in my mind that the Russian Dolls series will depict the Russian-speaking community in a distorted way, as a caricature, as a joke. Lifetime does not care about the thousands of great, beautiful, funny, smart and hard-working young Russian speaking women who attend colleges and universities, make money as paralegals, librarians, nurses, journalists and computer specialists. They are great daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. They don’t spend most of their time in nightclubs, bars or lounges. They don’t speak this dirty language and they hate vodka.
Of course, we do have our own bad apples, low lives and criminals, but they constitute a minority in the Russian speaking community. Lifetime wants to create a lot of fun and entertainment by throwing the reputation of Russian-speaking New Yorkers under the bus.
It looks like Kagan is throwing his lot in with John Lisyanskiy, who condemned the show’s title as synonymous with prostitution, and who authored a letter to Lifetime expressing concerns that the channel will be “reducing would-be contestants to vodka-drinking ethnic caricatures who ‘love attention’ and do little more than ‘eat, drink and party.’” Lisyanskiy is the founder of the Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus, and the letter was co-signed by 42 elected politicians and Russian-speaking activists.
We have a feeling, as the show gets closer to its August 11 premiere, Kagan won’t be the last voice we hear from.
Sheepshead Bites has snagged the first publicly-available look at Russian Dolls, the new Brighton Beach-based reality show that will air on Lifetime on August 11 at 10:30 p.m.
Lifetime says the show, which had the working title Brighton Beach, provides a “rare and entertaining look at Brighton Beach’s colorful multi-generational families whose dramas and dreams contend with their Russian heritage while living in this famous, alluring, vibrant and highly protective community.”
We’ve been asked not to give too many details about the show away – and, yes, we’ve seen full character bios and episode synopses – but we will tell you that it focuses on eight local Russian-Americans.
Michael and Marina Levitis, two of Russian Dolls' stars (Source: James Edstrom)
Lifetime’s newest show, the Brighton Beach-themed reality series Russian Dolls, is taking another round of flack as Russian leaders zero in on the new title, saying it’s synonymous with one of their community’s bugaboos: escort services.
But the name may be beyond the pale. “Russian Dolls” is a term frequently used to advertise Russian escort services and prostitution fronts, a detail not overlooked by the community’s leaders.
“It’s the most ugly name I’ve ever heard,” said Raisa Chernina, director of the Be Proud Foundation, a non-profit with roots in the Russian-American community. “The name speaks for itself. Russian Dolls is a very polite way of saying escorts.”
“They told me it was Russian Dolls and I said ‘My God.’ It’s like those Danielle Steel books,” Chernina added.
The following Op-Ed is written by Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District, representing businesses on and around Brighton Beach. Makhnin wrote this piece after the fatal shooting on the boardwalk on Thursday, June 9. She believes that the NYPD leadership should have been more responsive to local safety concerns about beach overcrowding on hot holidays, providing the 60th Precinct with appropriate personnel. She also said that the reverberations around sensational shooting like this can create a false perception of the neighborhood, devastating local businesses long-term.
Each headline screams about the shooting on Brighton Beach. Big stories like this are reported by everyone and everywhere. Big stories like this, especially a criminal one, is the best way to sell newspapers. Reporters walk around interviewing locals, trying to get as many quotes as possible depicting screaming and fear. I have read all of them looking for a small story behind a big one. A story, perhaps, about the responsibilities of city officials and the safety of ordinary taxpayers in Brighton Beach. A story with a silver lining.
Michael and Marina Levitis at Rasputin's Women's Day Soirée (Source: James Edstrom)
Lifetime’s Brighton Beach reality show will star a confessed criminal and local nightclub owner facing disbarment and six months in jail after a political scandal, but the Russian community isn’t worried about negative stereotyping because they “trust” the A&E-owned network.
Michael Levitis, lawyer and owner of Rasputin Nightclub (2670 Coney Island Avenue) confirmed to Sheepshead Bites that the show is focused, in part, on his family, a casting decision that comes as Levitis is caught up in an alleged corruption scheme with State Senator Carl Kruger.
Though local Russian-American leaders previously squabbled over potentially harmful depictions of their community in the Brighton Beach show, it seems all is quiet in Little Odessa despite the casting revelation.