While many reality television shows are playing up stereotypes and specifically choosing certain cast members to fit a mold, Ari Fitz of MTV’s The Real World: Ex-plosion is defying the norm. The queer level-headed Oakland native isn’t on television throwing drinks and punches or turning straight girls out. She’s focused, making films, modeling and unapologetically claiming space. She graciously took some time out to chat with ELIXHER about her experience on the The Real World, her career, love life and the complexity of gender.
ELIXHER: What was your experience like on The Real World: Ex-plosion?
ARI: The first word that comes to mind is “surreal.” The craziest part is coming home and watching yourself on TV and living all of those experiences again, but with millions of people watching you.
ELIXHER: In a house full of chaos, how did you manage to stay centered?
ARI: I think the coolest thing and one of the biggest reasons why I decided to do something that crazy is that I got to focus on my work. I’m from the Bay Area. So moving into a house in San Francisco wasn’t that big of an adjustment for me. It got me centered because I could continue to do some of the stuff that I was already doing. I could continue to do some of the modeling gigs that I was taking on and continue with the film that I was working on.
ELIXHER: Who were some of your favorite cast members and some of your least favorite people?
ARI: The first person that comes to my mind when I think about [my] favorite is Tom. Tom is the stereotypical frat boy from Texas. In my mind, I thought he was put there just to irritate me and everybody thought we would butt heads, but Tom and I clicked really quickly. He’s probably one of the most genuine people that I’ve ever met in my life. He’s the type of guy that if we continued to be friends, I could invite him to my wedding. Jamie is really cool as well.
For the least favorite and I think it’s pretty obvious on the show. It has to be [my castmate] Ashley. She was one of the other locals, but she was a transplant. The thing about transplants in San Francisco is a lot of people when they live there for longer than 18 months, they start to claim the city in a way that doesn’t really work. She was telling everybody to get out of her city and I’m the person who is actually from the Bay.
ELIXHER: Are you still friends with people from the show?
ARI: Yes. I’m still friends with a lot of my ex-roommates. Tom, Jenny and I are really close. I still talk to Jenny and Cory as well. Those are the four that I really keep in touch with.
ELIXHER: What’s currently the deal with you and your ex-girlfriend Ashley?
ARI: [Laughs.] The deal between Ashley and I is simply she has been my best friend for a very long time and we started dating like three years back. The chemistry and love has always been there. Things moved way too fast. Early last year, we had an apartment together. My life was very comfortable and that scared me a lot. I’m 24. When I was 13, I had all of these dreams and it felt like my life was just being decided for me. I made a decision to quit everything. I quit the job that I had, I quit the apartment, the girlfriend and everything. I moved back to my cheap little apartment in Oakland and I wanted to just re-start. I was planning to move to Berlin before doing the show. I just needed to shake the life that I was living and unfortunately I ended up dropping one of my best friends.
ELIXHER: Why Berlin?
ARI: Part of what was making me feel very stuck and comfortable was continuing to live in my hometown. I’ve lived in South America, but I never lived in Europe. I was thinking it would be really dope to uproot completely and move to the cheapest European country there is and focus on art-making. I saw myself living in a completely different world, being incredibly inspired and creating the work that I wanted.
ELIXHER: How were you able to focus on producing your film with Ashley being in the house?
ARI: The one reason why we broke up was because I wanted to do my own thing and here I am doing my own thing and my ex is there. That made it really tough. As crazy as it was in the house with everyone else, I was still able to get work done. But having Ashley there made me lose a little bit of focus.
ELIXHER: You’re a horror and suspense filmmaker. That’s a genre where people of color and specifically Black people aren’t prevalent. How do you plan to carve out a space in that arena?
ARI: The immediate answer to that is just by being there. It’s really easy sometimes to get caught up in looking around and saying why am I the only one in this industry. It’s more jarring for me to walk into a space and just not see anybody there and decide to walk away. This is something that I love. I love horror and thrillers. I think it’s exciting and it’s really important for me to make it known that there are other Black female horror filmmakers interested and I’m sure there are other girls that feel the same way.
ELIXHER: What’s your creative process like?
ARI: There’s really not a process yet. I fall in love with a single image and then I create stories around that.
ELIXHER: You model for the same agency that rejected you in high school. What has your experience been like as Black queer model?
ARI: It’s been interesting. I just signed with them early last year and it’s crazy because the moment that I got on that site I started booking a ton of work. It was surprising to me how quickly things picked up. I started doing commercials, runway and print. One of the things about being a Black queer model is that I find myself all the time having to wear skimpy outfits with tall heels. The way that I dress outside of work is pretty different. I’m a bit of a tomboy and I like to wear different things. Things are just hyper-feminine and internally I feel a different way. So it’s strange at times.
ELIXHER: You’ve been mistaken for transgender. You’re not insulted by it, but you made it a point to educate people. How do you think we can get people inside and outside of the community to better understand gender identity and gender expression?
ARI: The big thing right now is just education. It’s an issue of language. I think some people just don’t really know the words to use.
ELIXHER: You’ve said previously that “there needs to be some more visibility around how complex gender is.” Specifically in media, how do you feel like we can make that happen?
ARI: I think it’s just having more conversations like these. I’m not the only masculine-centered model out there who feels the way that I do. There are so many queer models out there and we’ve had private conversations like this. I think just getting these stories out there is important and transformative. You see so many different kinds of people in the industry and so many different presentations of gender within editorials, but behind the scenes it is still very traditional and conservative. Sure it’s presented in editorials, but let’s talk about what that means.
Catch Ari on The Real World: Ex-plosion Wednesdays at 10pm EST on MTV.
– Interview by Glennisha Morgan
Glennisha Morgan serves as ELIXHER’s Entertainment Editor. She is the founder of The Fembassy (a blog site that is solely dedicated to women MCs), a multimedia journalist, photographer and filmmaker. During her career she has interviewed people like Russell Simmons, La La Anthony, MC Lyte, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Laverne Cox, and Marsha Ambrosius. In 2010, Glennisha was featured in BET’s first original music documentary, ‘My Mic Sounds Nice.’