Karina Seabrook, the star of MTV’s new reality TV series Made in Staten Island, recently found herself at the center of major backlash.
On Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, the docuseries finally premiered after weeks of controversy over its portrayal of the New York City borough and its stars’ familial connections to organized crime.
According to a statement released by the network, “Staten Island was home to New York’s most notorious mafia families. Now, a new crop of hustlers has emerged in MTV’s Made in Staten Island” (via the New York Daily News). The statement continued, “The coming-of-age series follows eight Staten Islanders as they battle each other, and the odds, to step out from the shadows and change the reputation of the island. These friends will either choose wisely, or fall prey to the mistakes of past generations.”
For her part, Seabrook is the granddaughter of former mafia hit man Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano. According to NBC News, the infamous 73-year-old, who was a member of the Gambino crime family, was released on parole from federal prison in September 2017 following a 17-year stint on drug-related charges.
“We talk weekly,” Seabrook told the New York Post on Saturday, Jan. 12. “It’s nice to be able to call him since I had so much time away from him.” The 19-year-old TV star is also the only child of Mob Wives alum Karen Gravano, who now serves as an executive producer on Made in Staten Island. “I grew up with the pros of the [Mafia]. The fast cars, the jewelry, the restaurants,” Karen told the media outlet, while her daughter said, “All my memories [of my grandfather] were of going to visit him in jail. It was hard for me.” However, well-aware of her grandfather’s notoriety as a former mob rat, Seabrook added, “But to me, he’s just my grandfather. Nothing else matters.”
Unfortunately for the budding MTV star, not everyone seems to see things that way. In addition to repeated comparisons to MTV’s Jersey Shore, a number of people, ranging from social media users to politicians, have taken offense with Made in Staten Island‘s depiction of the borough and Italian-Americans over the last few weeks.
Most notably, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has blasted the show on more than one occasion. “Anyone who has spent any time on Staten Island knows MTV is peddling stereotypes in a shameless ratings grab,” he tweeted earlier this month, before calling for the series’ cancellation on Monday, Jan. 14. “These stereotypes, they’re ridiculous and they’ve been around a long time and they’ve got to stop,” de Blasio said in part during a press conference (via The New York Post). “It’s 2019, stop treating Staten Island this way, stop treating New York City this way. There’s this horrible attempt to demonize Staten Island and demonize New York City.”
City Councilman Joseph C. Borelli has also sounded off on the matter, telling The New York Times, “We’ve been stereotyped before but now they are playing this stereotype out among kids and glorifying a life of crime.”
Meanwhile, a petition on Change.org was launched in early January 2019 to either have the borough taken out of Made in Staten Island‘s title or cancel the series altogether. While accusing the show of portraying Staten Island as “a cesspool of gangsters, meatheads and low lives,” the petition claimed that it “demeans what it is to be from Staten Island.” The petition continued, “It is built on the premise that kids from Staten Island all grow up surrounded by the mafia in their lives. This is far from the truth.” At the time of this writing, over 8,000 people have signed the petition.
As of this writing, MTV has yet to publicly comment on the ongoing criticism of its latest reality TV series. However, Seabrook doesn’t seem to be too concerned about it. “The petition means nothing to me. It’s crazy how people can judge a book by its cover,” she told The New York Post, adding, “We’re trying to grow up and get away from that lifestyle. We have a choice, and we know where that life gets you.”
Seabrook went on to encourage Made in Staten Island‘s naysayers to tune in just ahead of its premiere. “I’m excited to finally be able to share my story with everyone. This is definitely something you do not want to miss,” she wrote in part on Instagram. “I hope to prove all the negative comments wrong. We’re just trying to tell OUR story and hope many others can relate! We can do this nobody is alone! Thank you for all the support this has been a journey I am beyond grateful to be apart of!”
Whether or not Made in Staten Island actually won over any of its above-mentioned critics remains unclear. However, episode two is set to air on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, at 10 p.m. on MTV.