BET Retitles 'Hot Ghetto Mess' Before Debut Tonight

Jam Donaldson, creator of the Web site on which the show is based, says the title had become a distraction.
Jam Donaldson, creator of the Web site on which the show is based, says the title had become a distraction. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Faced with a public relations mess over its new reality show "Hot Ghetto Mess," Black Entertainment Television yesterday changed the show's name less than 48 hours before the series was set to debut.

"Hot Ghetto Mess," which is based on a Web site of the same name, will be called "We Got to Do Better" when it premieres tonight on BET at 10:30 p.m. The new title came from the Web site's slogan.

The program and Web site are the creation of Jam Donaldson, 34, a lifelong District resident who in 2004 began posting photos primarily of young African Americans who are engaged in unflattering and unsavory behavior.

The Web site was intended as social criticism of thuggish or undignified images, Donaldson said. District-based BET signed Donaldson last fall to write a six-episode TV show based on her creation that uses video clips.

But the project has been criticized by other African Americans, who say the site and program are demeaning and present racist depictions of blacks. More than 5,000 people have electronically "signed" an online petition calling for BET not to air the program.

Opponents have also pressured the cable channel's advertisers; State Farm Insurance Co. and Home Depot recently asked BET to remove their ads from promotional material about the show on

"We felt [the criticism] was taking away from all the things we're trying to do with this program," a BET spokesperson, Jeanine Liburd, said yesterday. "We felt the attention should be on the show, not on the title."

Donaldson said yesterday that the name change was "fine" by her because the title had become a distraction. "Everyone was talking about the name and not what was in the show," she said. She added, "If [this] makes people shut up and look at the damn show, then so be it."

Gina McCauley, who has helped rally opposition to the program, said yesterday on her Web site ( that "BET took the lamest option they could and changed the name." But she added that the name change had several beneficial effects, such as limiting the spread of the term "Hot Ghetto Mess" to refer to poor black people.

Segments of the program couldn't be reshot in time to reflect the last-minute name change, Donaldson said. So, although the title has changed, host Charlie Murphy will refer to "Hot Ghetto Mess" during the course of the program.

For years, BET has been accused of airing music videos that critics say present negative stereotypes of African Americans.

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