Mona Scott-Young, executive producer of the "Love & Hip Hop" franchise, takes her seat at the head of a conference table in a 40th floor suite of the Atlantic building overlooking west Midtown in Atlanta. In addition to giving the urban entertainment bloggers on hand the early scoop on season two of "Love & Hip Hop Atlanta," her new VH1 reality show "The Gossip Game," and forthcoming Bravo network endeavor "Taking Atlanta," she's here to introduce her latest venture, Myx Fusion, a new alcoholic beverage line that comes in three appropriately girlie flavors: peach, coconut, and Moscato. "And the beauty about Moscato is it's the No. 1 growing varietal in the wine business," Scott-Young says while cobalt blue bottles are passed around for sampling. "And it started in the urban market."
If anything, Scott-Young knows her target audience. For two decades, she helped make Violator Management rap's brand-name artist management firm by steering the careers of A-listers LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, and Missy Elliott. Since splitting to form Monami Entertainment, she's become one of hip-hop's household names herself.
Forget leaning in: She's practically running circles around the men. And she's done it without half the hand-wringing over which Facebook's chief operating officer has chided women in corporate America. Not to mention, Scott-Young's earned her stripes in an industry notoriously more sexist and misogynistic than Sheryl Sandberg's male-dominated world of tech geeks.
So why, in the midst of breaking so much ground, is Scott-Young reviled among so many women of color? If you have to ask, you probably missed last year's debut season of VH1's top-rated "Love & Hip Hop Atlanta," a show rightly blamed for taking black reality TV to depths unseen since Flavor Flav got his groove back. Discovering that a black woman was behind a program that seemed to exploit black women and their desperate, dysfunctional relationships was the last straw for African-American critics of the show.
"So often I hear how horrible it is that these women are represented on television, that they should all crawl under a rock, never to be heard from or seen from again," Scott-Young acknowledges. "But I'm not here to judge them. I'm not here to decide what aspects of their life should and shouldn't make it onto television. I think that these women are a part of our population as African-Americans [and] those stories deserve to be told as much as the other stories that are told on television."
Scott-Young's penchant for storytelling, paired with outrageous behavior from cast members, makes it hard to believe her episodes aren't scripted. But she says such plotlines as the love triangle between producer and fan-favorite Stevie J, his protégé (and ex-stripper) Joseline Hernandez, and his baby mama Mimi Faust only prove that reality is stranger than fiction.
"I'd be Shonda Rhimes in this bitch if I could make that stuff up," she says, referring to the creator of "Scandal." It's an ironic comparison considering that "Scandal," though less divisive, has still earned its share of African-American critics. Of course, the fictional lead played by Kerry Washington would look like the Virgin Mary standing next any one of Scott-Young's leading ladies. Not even Sheryl Sandberg would have to lean in to see that.