BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A woman kicked out of her historically black sorority claims in a federal complaint that the group did nothing stop an internet backlash fueled by her participation in a short-lived VH1 reality show.
“Sorority Sisters” was canceled just one month after its Dec. 15, 2014, premiere, but plaintiff Priyanka Banks says in a Jan. 11 complaint that her sorority’s reaction to the program left lasting scars.
Represented by Manhattan attorney Hernandez Rhau, Banks brought her complaint in the Eastern District of New York against Delta Sigma Theta.
The sorority was founded at the historically black Howard University in 1913, but Banks says she joined the Deltas’ Beta Eta chapter in 2009 as an undergraduate at Alabama State University.
Over the next six years, Banks says she majored in theater arts, was named Miss Alabama State University, and even served as treasurer of her sorority chapter as well as captain of the step team.
Banks says she had been booked to perform various hosting opportunities because of her brief involvement in VH1’s “Sorority Sisters,” but that these deals were all rescinded after public pressure led to the show’s cancellation.
Adding insult to injury, Banks learned from “a random Facebook posting” on Jan. 13, 2015, that the Deltas had expelled her and with four of “Sorority Sisters” co-stars, according to the complaint.
The expulsion coincided with the sorority’s Founders Day, and Banks says she still has not received formal notice about her ejection.
Representatives for Delta Sigma Theta declined to comment.
Though “Sorority Sisters” only aired for one month, Banks says the release of a preview teaser for the show in June 2014 prompted “negative reactions and backlash from the Black Greek letter community.”
By June 11, 2014, one petition on MoveOn.org to block the show’s premiere had received nearly 20,000 signatures, according to the complaint.
Banks notes that the controversy stemmed from VH1’s reputation for “ratchet television,” which she defines as a genre where black women are seen bickering, “using profanity, behaving violently and verbally tearing one another down.”
Media critics have called out VH1 programs such as “Love & Hip: Atlanta” as exploitative of the black community, but Banks says “Sorority Sisters” wasn’t given a chance.
There was some arguing in Season 1 of “Sorority Sisters,” Banks concedes, but she notes that it was shown as just one part of everyday life for the wholly college-educated cast. Whether performing community service or singing in church choir, Banks says the show captured the cast working out their differences and pursuing their dreams. “One cast mate worked to obtain a doctorate, two others raised children as single parents, and another planned for a wedding,” the complaint states, “and all of them engaged in normal everyday activities that people typically do, including occasionally arguing.”
Banks says the show’s critics may have begun with sincere concern about the show’s depiction of African American women, but that this quickly gave way to online harassment.
“And if you know a Soror in this show, feel free to punch her in the throat!” one woman wrote on Facebook, according to a exhibit included with Banks’ complaint.
Banks discussed the harassment she endured, including being called a “coon,” “stripper” and “slut” on social media in a special episode of “Sorority Sisters” that aired on Dec. 29.
With the hashtag #BoycottSororitySisters trending on Twitter, Buzzfeed reported that the backlash quickly turned financial. By December 2014, according to BuzzFeed, 51 advertisers had pulled out, including the NBA.
Banks seeks punitive damages, alleging defamation, breach of contract and negligence, among other counts.
The former Delta has more 19,000 Instagram followers and runs a shoe business called Priyanka’s Palace for women with large feet.