Russian Leaders Squabble Over Brighton Beach Show

Can we? (Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

Looks like Little Odessa is far from united in their perception of the Brighton Beach reality series, and television producers looking for real Russkie drama need only follow around the community’s leadership.

Following the letter earlier this week written by Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus’ John Lisyanskiy and signed by dozens of politicians, media personalities, advocates and business owners bashing on the upcoming Brighton Beach reality show, another Brighton Beach heavyweight is criticizing the critics for not doing their homework.

Yelena Makhnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District, fired off her own letter in response to Lisyanskiy. In it, she blasts him and his co-authors for misleading the public based on outdated information. She said that the casting call, which looks for the party-hardy Russkies modeled after Snooki and The Situation, was issued before Lifetime picked up the show, and points out that the network is refocusing casting priorities. The new show, as Lifetime producers pointed out, tells the multi-generational story of women in a Russian family, and said the stereotyping Lisyanskiy is worried about is “not an issue.”

But her claims are hardly easing Lisyanskiy’s concerns. He responded with yet another letter of his own, calling Makhnin’s claims “baseless and “irresponsible.”  He says that the reports she cites “offer mostly obscure and sometimes conflicting” views of the show, and that “Lifetime is engaging in tricky marketing tactics to obfuscate the show’s true format,” which many still believe will be of the Jersey Shore ilk. He thinks Lifetime should make a clear, simple statement on the show’s direction.

So how ’bout it, TV folk? Can we film these two in a house together?

Below are their full letters.

From Yelena Mahnin, executive director of the Brighton Beach BID:

Dear Friends,
I believe that it is important to assure that Russian-speaking community is not pictured as bunch of idiots. But in this particular case, people who orchestrated protest have not done their homework. I received the draft of this letter two weeks ago. Immediately I have checked all latest releases regarding an upcoming show. In October 2010 several articles were published in various newspapers including NY Times stating that since Lifetime decided to go ahead with the show, they have change their casting goals. I have also contacted Lifetime and received a statement that upcoming show has nothing to do with the Jersey Shore theme and it will be story about three generations of females (as almost every show and movie on Lifetome). I have also personally spoke to Lifetime producers last week and was assured that “Brighton Beach”reality show will not portray Russian-speaking community in a bad way. I have also researched the policy of Lifetime, which is a part of “Family package”. I have share that with some people including those who were working on the letter.
I would like you to know that such issue was also discussed during Brighton Beach BID Board of Directors meeting and it was said that this upcoming show will put Brighton Beach on a map country wide. As was written in NY Times “Little Odessa should expect much more tourists next summer”.
It is also disturbing that “fathers” of this protest did not ask any business owners from Brighton Beach their opinion, it is also unclear to me why such protest came out in November of 2010 after all details about upcoming show were released by Lifetime in number of articles and interviews.
I appreciate all elected officials who sign this letter for their concerns and willingness to protect Russian-speaking community from disrespect but in this particulate case it is “not a case”
If you have any question or would like to review articles and statements , please do not hesitate to contact me at any time.

John Lisyanskiy, the founder of the Russian-Speaking American Leadership Caucus

Dear friends,
As many of you already know, Ms. Yelena Makhnin, has recently taken issue with our campaign to promote a fair and stereotype free depiction of the Russian-speaking American community in an upcoming Lifetime reality series, Brighton Beach. She did so in a letter which takes a reproachful tone and speaks to neither substance nor merit of our ongoing effort.
We write to you today to set the record straight and assure you that contrary to Ms. Makhnin’s accusations, we have done our homework and have continuously tracked all that is publicly known about the show’s development process. We are also keenly aware of the mentioned media reports, which offer mostly obscure and sometimes conflicting takes on the show’s theme and direction.
As a result, many in our community have come to identify Brighton Beach as a thematic extension of the ethnically derogatory Jersey Shore, while others believe that Lifetime is engaging in tricky marketing tactics to obfuscate the show’s true format.
For this reason, our letter of concern – supported by New York’s top elected officials and Russian-speaking community activists – asks that Lifetime “formally break with Jersey Shore’s form of tasteless exposé and elevate the material to depict Russian-speaking Americans accurately and without ethnic bias.” Simply put, our aim is to compel the network to take an official position on the show’s theme and, if needed, issue an official statement denouncing media reports which depict Brighton Beach as the “Russian Jersey Shore”.
In absence of official announcements and in light of how little is known about the coming series, Ms. Makhnin’s assurances that “that ‘Brighton Beach’ reality show will not portray Russian-speaking community in a bad way” are baseless and irresponsible. To be clear, Ms. Makhnin is not a spokesperson for the Lifetime Network and is in no position to operate as such. Yet for reasons still unknown, Ms. Makhnin, a Community Board member, has chosen to align herself with the network’s corporate interests – not the interests of our community.
Those of you who know me best are familiar with my decade-long record of public service, as well as my continuous strives to advance ethnic and religious tolerance throughout our community and beyond. It is in this spirit that I publicly defended Ms. Makhnin not long ago, when another member of Community Board 13 slighted her immigrant background. Our letter of concern about Brighton Beach has only one mission: to espouse the same virtues of tolerance for all members of the Russian-speaking and immigrant communities.
As always, we thank you for your support and welcome your input.

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