As a self-described “connoisseur” of the entertainment industry, “Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood” star Ray “Misster Ray” Cunningham has made a name for himself both on and off screen. He’s the CEO of Social Status PR, a celebrity public relation and event planning firm based in Los Angeles, and has worked with a number of brands including BET, TMZ Live, TV One’s News One Now. The reality star also created his own original digital show on WEtv titled “Misster Ray’s Reality Wrap.”
In an exclusive interview, theGrio spoke with the media maven on the evolution Black stereotypes on reality television, his unexpected violent assault during the LHHH reunion show, and why he’s more than just the “gay husband” he was portrayed as during season four of the drama-filled program.
theGrio: Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood isn’t your first time doing reality television. You were once a cast member on BET’s College Hill ten years ago. How do you feel Black reality television has changed since then?
Misster Ray: I will say that content-wise the type of shows, stories, and characters being cast have definitely evolved from when I first started in reality television 10 years ago. To see shows on cable about black lawyers, real estate agents, business owners, and even minority transgender models is impressive. Unfortunately, the expectation and exploitation of Black drama increases ratings for networks. This is entertaining for the viewers, but honestly shapes the image of how others see our community – divided and jaded.
TG: You read the op-ed I wrote last month for theGrio entitled “Dear ‘Love & Hip Hop’: Gay men are not TV accessories.” Do you feel you were stereotyped on the show as a Black gay man?
MR: I don’t feel that I was stereotyped on Love & Hip Hop Hollywood. The hard truth is that people just don’t get along. People are territorial over their friendships and are opportunist, not just in Los Angeles. My main purpose for agreeing to do Love & Hip Hop Hollywood was to be a supportive friend to my girlfriends and promote my company, Social Status PR. The events that unfolded on the show helped make the season explosive, but were at the expense of me being taunted and physically assaulted.
TG: How did you feel about being portrayed as one of Masika Kalsyha’s “gay husbands” in an on-going brawl with fellow gay cast mate Zellswag? Were there other scenes you taped beyond the petty fights and confrontations that you wish would have been shown?
MR: I wasn’t offended being labeled as a gay husband because it’s a term used affectionately by women who have close relationships with their gay friends. It’s ultimate loyalty. Masika and I have been friends for years so our relationship stems from a loving place. I would say that the term could be deemed negative towards those who may have ill intentions. I also wasn’t battling for a title I already had because I’ve maintained relationships with the other girls years prior to them being cast on Love and Hip-Hop. With the show, our scenes are always about addressing adversity, and hopefully find a resolution towards the drama being discussed. However, I did wish they showed our fun dinners and house get-togethers with the kids! That’s honestly what goes on in our real lives outside of the drama we have to deal with on Love & Hip-Hop.
TG: The internet has been exploding ever since viewers witnessed that violent sneak attack you encountered from Zellswag during Part 1 of the Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood reunion. How have you processed the fact that millions saw you assaulted on television and what have you done to address the incident?
MR: The altercation was an out-of-body experience. Everything I cared about flashed before my eyes. I had one second to either be semi-rational in a hostile environment, or stoop to his level and lose everything that I’ve worked hard to obtain in my long-standing career. Our host, Nina Parker, Monami Entertainment, VH1 and Eastern production staff, and cast, were fully supportive when I came back on stage to say my peace. I pride myself on not lowering my morals to engage in physical violence. I have filed paperwork in NYC with the New York Police Department and it’s currently in process of being handled. Violence is never acceptable in any form. We were given this opportunity to be on a largely successful platform to promote our brands, and unfortunately some people taint the brand and overshadow what the purpose of show is with foolishness.
TG: Most of the public knows you from Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood, but you’ve been in the entertainment industry for years. What is one major thing you want people to know about Misster Ray that you didn’t feel came across to viewers watching the show?
MR: One thing that I wish viewers would have seen more of is that I’ve been working in the entertainment industry since I graduated Virginia State University. I started out doing public relations in the corporate communications department at BET Network in Los Angeles. This is how I met both past and current cast members. Since then I’ve worked with Global Grind as a writer, been an on-air radio personality in Virginia and D.C., and also held recurring guest commentary appearances for Roland Martin’s “News One Now” on TVOne. Prior to the joining Love & Hip-Hop, I created and currently host WEtv’s longest-running and award-winning digital series “Misster Ray’s Reality Wrap.” My resume and references clearly speak for itself, so I came into the show knowing that I had valid and honest receipts to stand on, not riding on anyone else’s success because I had my own.
TG: Unlike most talent cast on reality television shows, you already have a strong network and industry backing. After all of the controversy with your debut on Love & Hip-Hop Hollywood, do you plan to return? And if so, what are you going to do to ensure more nuanced portrayals of Black gay men?
MR: The season just ended and my focus right now is completely on expanding Social Status PR’s portfolio of events and signing clients for representation. I haven’t even thought about next season because as soon as I returned from filming the reunion in New York, I had Lisa Raye’s 50th Birthday Celebration to plan and successfully execute, along with a few upcoming projects. Participating in the show was personally and professionally eye opening in terms of how I need to grow as a person in dealing with situations that may not be favorable.
TG: What is one piece of wisdom you would give other Black LGBTQ people who are interested in navigating within the entertainment industry?
MR: The main thing that I want to let every person in the LGBTQ community know is that success doesn’t have a size preference, color, or type. You do not have to act foolish, or engage in physical violence on reality television to be successful. Success comes from determination and not allowing [others’] preference dictate what you allow yourself to do.
Ernest Owens is the Editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly. He has written for USA Today, NBC News, BET, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and ernestowens.com.