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Southern Charm's First Cast Member of Color Leva Bonaparte Talks Race, White Privilege & More

In an exclusive chat with E! News, the Persian TV star sounded off on confronting co-star Kathryn Dennis about her "problematic" behavior in season 7.

By Brett Malec Oct 26, 2020 12:00 PMTags
Watch: "Southern Charm" Cast Talks Kathryn's Drastic Change

Leva Bonaparte is shaking up Southern Charm.

While the Charleston nightlife entrepreneur and bar owner has appeared on the hit Bravo series before, season seven marks her first time as a full-time cast member, making the Persian reality star Southern Charm's first-ever official cast member of color.

Leva says that because she's "been friends with these people for so many years," she didn't really think about diversifying the cast when she joined full time.

"It wasn't this sort of moment for me until I guess now that people are noticing like, 'Oh, this is a show with a cast and its formal person of color,'" she told E! News exclusively ahead of Thursday's premiere. "I'm used to being the 'other' in groups, so it wasn't anything different to me. But again, like I say to many people, I have so many diverse groups of friends, this was just a pocket of friendships that I have...I'm just now starting to digest that, I guess is the best way to put it. I think it's cool. I think it's great."

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Southern Charm Season 7: Meet the Cast

Race is one of the many difficult but important topics that will be tackled on the new season of Southern Charm. In addition to living through the coronavirus pandemic, the cast will address racism, white privilege and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.

John Valkos/Tommy Garcia/Bravo

"I mean, all these things have bled into friendships all over America, right? So this is just a pocket of people who were affected by the climate of America and to ignore that would be so incredibly tone-deaf," Leva said. "So of course all of that, all of the COVID, all of the Black Lives Matter, politics...all these things bled into our friendships and I'm sure you're going to see a synopsis, so to speak, of the many, many conversations that were head."

The trailer for season seven even shows Leva confronting co-star Kathryn Dennis about her "white privilege" (Dennis is a descendent of John C. Calhoun, a vice president who supported slavery).

"Awkward!" Leva laughed when asked about that particular moment, adding, "'Hey this thing you said was highly offensive. Like, are you aware?' For me that conversation, it just comes from some choices she had made in her communications with people, and I just in one sense was trying to allow her to come off of the anxiety of just burying her head in the sand and allowing her to understand why navigating through life without understanding the person that you're talking to's background can be dangerous and can be harmful and can be hateful even if it's not meant to be."

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Stars Donating to Black Lives Matter Organizations

"So that was where that conversation was sort of coming from, where I was saying, 'Listen, your family history, who you are, you gotta break this bubble and see the pain around you and the history around you that you may not feel affected by, but being aloof to it can hurt people,'" she continued. "So that's sort of where that conversation was coming from, trying to sort of break that open and make her realize that even if she's not meaning harm, it's doing harm by just not giving a s--t."

Leva also confronts Kathryn about the controversy she stirred earlier this year when Kathryn sent a monkey emoji to a Black woman during a heated social media exchange (Kathryn later apologized after fans called her message racist).

John Valkos/Tommy Garcia/Bravo

"I think the world let her know that that was problematic behavior for sure when it happened in real-time," Leva shared. "I don't think she needed me to let her know that. I think really the conversation between her and I was because we have a friendship and because I think, A, she wanted me to know...I think she just knew, like, 'We're not gonna be able to continue the show unless I address this with Leva.' And that's what it boiled down to. And I was very clear but I also tried to be kind because I just think telling somebody they suck because they did something incredibly stupid and inexcusable is not the solution. I think to sit down and walk through it if you can—in that moment, I had the bandwidth to walk through it with her; to let her know how I felt; to let her know what I think she needs to do to reconcile and fix—you know what I mean—and learn and educate."
 
"I was trying to be a friend," Leva added. "Even though I was incredibly upset and incredibly hurt, I was still trying to be a friend and help her walk through this sort of horrible, tone-deaf remark."

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Vanderpump Rules and Southern Charm Friendships

Season seven of Southern Charm premieres this Thursday, Oct. 29 at 9 p.m. on Bravo. Scroll down to check out the season seven cast photos and for more info on what's to come this season!

Binge past seasons of Southern Charm on Peacock any time.

(E!, Bravo and Peacock are all part of the NBCUniversal family)

Peacock is live now! Check out NBCU's new streaming service here.
Kathryn Dennis

No stranger to outside criticisms from those in her small town, a fiery and unapologetic Kathryn is forced to answer to a string of questionable mishaps that leave her friends doubting her motives. Letting her gossiping ways get the best of her, she lands in hot water after sharing what she perceives to be old news and is wholly unprepared for the repercussions.

Shep Rose

Equipped with a new therapist and an improved attitude, long-time bachelor Shep may have finally found the one, but they begin to question whether their honeymoon phase can survive the pressures of quarantine and COVID-19.

Craig Conover

Craig finds himself struggling to reconcile his stagnant personal life with his thriving professional endeavors. While his company Sewing Down South sees exponential growth, he is stuck living with Austen as he attempts to get his personal affairs in order. 

Austen Kroll

Meanwhile, Austen seems to have finally discovered the secret to success both personally and professionally. He accomplishes a major milestone with his beer business, but his good fortune suddenly comes crashing down when the pandemic hits and everything he has worked so hard for hangs in the balance.

Madison LeCroy

Familiar face Madison is at a crossroad in her relationship with Austen. Convinced that he is the one for her, she quickly realizes they may be in over their heads when the pandemic threatens to tear them apart. As she attempts to sort out her feelings, Patricia seizes the opportunity to play matchmaker and set Madison up with the man she deserves.  

Leva Bonaparte

Leva and her husband Lamar are known for their success in the Charleston nightlife and hospitality scene. After years of mingling with the charmers in the same social circles, Leva leads the charge in her quest to alter the social landscape of her adopted southern hometown. In a bi-racial marriage to a Charleston native and raising a son who is Black and Persian, she advocates for a "new south" that embraces her family's varied culture and promises a brighter future. Not one to shy away from tough conversations, her willingness to call her friends out in the hope of shifting their perspectives might be more than they can handle. 

John Pringle

Introduced to the group through his college fraternity brother Shep, John leaves his life behind in Los Angeles to reclaim his seventh-generation Charleston roots. His search for a more tranquil life proves far from easy, as he grapples with being a single dad living 3,000 miles away from his sons and is quickly caught up in a debate with the guys about bro-code when he shows interest in Madison.

Peacock is live now! Check out NBCU's new streaming service here.