Braxton Family Values is back, but a cloud hangs over season 7 of the WE tv hit: Tamar Braxton's feud with the network, which became very public in the wake of her suicide attempt this summer. When news broke in July, fans questioned whether the show would go on. It did, and the new batch of episodes cover the family dealing with Tamar's mental health struggle. The supertease shows sisters Toni, Traci, Trina and Towanda, as well as their mother, Evelyn, reacting to the news.
"No one can know when something like mental illness will loom or will surface," Trina tells ET over video chat, alongside Towanda. "This is a real situation that's happening to our sister. ... We definitely touch on how it affected us, individually and collectively as a family. But we do not in any way, shape, form or wise tell Tamar's story for her. That's only something she can tell."
When the trailer dropped last month, Tamar slammed it as "disgusting" and accused WE tv of "using my pain for their pleasure and ratings," adding, "I'm not filming for this season! They are doing this while I’m not on the show!!!!" This all came after Tamar said she felt like a "slave" to the network, claiming she had asked repeatedly to be let out of her contract.
In response to Tamar's allegations and request to be let out of her contract, WE tv released this statement: "Tamar Braxton has been an important part of our network family for more than a decade. As she focuses on her health and recovery at what is clearly a difficult and personal time, we will work with her representatives to honor her request to end all future work for the network. We wish her nothing but the best."
Tamar shared more of her feelings on Tamron Hall last week, her first time speaking out publicly since attempting to take her own life. She told the daytime host, "I'm still having a hard time trying to figure out, what's the premise [of airing this season of Braxton Family Values]? Is this to inspire, to help people with mental illness, to help Tamar with her new normal, with depression and anxiety?”
Now, the family is defending their decision to continue with the series, promising season 7 does not exploit their sister.
"I think that we would do our fans and the viewers a disservice if we didn't talk about it," Towanda says. "So when the producers and the family collectively got together and said, this is what we're gonna do: We're not gonna tell Tamar's story, because it's her story to tell. However, we can talk about how it affected us as a family and individually when we found out about it. How did we react? Those are real feelings, and I think that real families can respect the fact that we're going to touch on it, but we're not gonna tell her story."
At the end of the day, the sisters say it would be impossible to do the show without acknowledging what happened with Tamar.
"What we can also do is give a voice to that person that is like, oh my gosh. I'm in this moment of depression, I'm having these mental health issues and I feel like I can't speak out, and if this family can go through this situation and get through this situation, maybe I can too," Trina says. "We always did this show to help someone else, not just ourselves. Because we've had our own counseling, we've had our own situations throughout the show, but as long as we can help somebody, there's a reason to continue on to do the show."
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'Braxton Family Values' Season 7 Trailer
The season premiere opens with a flash-forward to the family learning of Tamar's suicide attempt, each member speaking directly to camera, almost as if they're speaking to Tamar, but Towanda says that wasn't their intention.
"We have her number, and we saw her a few weeks ago and we've actually had a personal, private conversation with her about everything that everyone isn't privy to, but it was definitely -- we definitely wanted the viewer to understand that this is a serious situation and we take it serious," Towanda promises. "We respect anyone in their boundaries of where they are mentally and emotionally."
"A lot of doctors will tell you -- I'm a certified life coach -- so, a lot of doctors will tell you that it's important for that victim to understand how the family reacted, or how your loved ones are feeling when you have decided to make that decision," she adds. "I think that's very important."
Trina and Towanda say there's nothing that could break their sisterly bond with Tamar, but note that their relationship will have its peaks and valleys. On Tamron Hall, Tamar acknowledged that the family needed to work on forgiveness "on both sides" to move forward from everything that transpired in 2020, and even the years before.
"This is my family, and I love my family," Tamar told Tamron. "I didn't want to fight with my family, and I didn't want to be an example of a family who fights and argues and always have turmoil. And, now we're at the point where, it's assaults and threats, and this is not the show that I created. I created the Braxton Family Values because I wanted to be an example, part of the Black community with five Black amazing sisters, all different walks of life, who can inspire and help, and people can learn from our experiences along the way. We wasn't teaching anything but being devilish, and I didn't want to do that."
"It was important for Tamar to speak her truth, and that's Tamar’s truth," Towanda says in response. "Tamar has to tell her own story and I think that's just where we're standing with it. We're just respecting where she is mentally and emotionally, and if she felt that's what she needed to do to get it off her, because sometimes you have to get it out, then that's what she had to do."
"Tamar has to speak her truth, and her truth does not necessarily mean it's the truth," Trina adds. "But it is her truth and she has a right to display that, and you can't absolve someone else's truth. You just can't, because that is how they feel and that’s how they internalize their walk in life."
The sisters repeatedly drive home that Tamar's truth is not their truth, with Towanda saying, "We have a right to speak our truth, as well, and that's our truth and how we experienced it and what we went through, and emotionally how we felt when we found out about it."
The sisters are still all in communication (even though Tamar unfollowed and/or blocked her siblings on social media), and Trina and Towanda say they have spoken with Tamar about their choice to continue with the reality show without her. Tamar filmed a good chunk of season 7 before the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, so she will appear in the first few episodes.
"Tamar's experience with the network is not necessarily mine or anyone else's experience with the show," Trina notes. "However, those things still have to be addressed. If we did not address the fact that it happened, people would wonder, why didn't you guys say anything about what happened? So it's like, you're darned if you do and you're darned if you don't kind of thing."
Trina admits that the family "really grappled with" whether to continue making the show after Tamar's suicide attempt before ultimately deciding they needed to, to share their side of things. It wasn't a decision they made lightly or quickly.
"I mean, this is a yield sign not a stop sign," she explains. "You have to take pause, and you have to really evaluate the reason why we even did the show in the first place, and it was to show people that we go through the same things that everyone else goes through -- and this situation is not exempt from it. You know, as long as we continue to help people, we'll continue to have a show. And if we stop helping people, then it’s time to go off the air -- including ourselves."
This is the second time in the last couple of years that Braxton Family Values has hit a yield sign. In 2018, the family went on strike from the show over a contract dispute. Only Traci continued to film, bringing on famous friends to fill the void of her sisters. The family eventually returned to the show with a series of special episodes centered on counseling with Iyanla Vanzant. It's those episodes that Tamar cites as the beginning of the end for her on the show. Two instances of major upheaval in as many years begs the question, can this show survive much longer?
"At this point I don't think any of us know that," Towanda offers, "especially with the temperature of everything that's going on, with COVID and everyone's trying to get back into production … all those things. I don't think that any of us really know. But I think what we do know is, as long as it makes sense, we'll continue doing Braxton Family Values."
On Tamron Hall, Tamar said she is "absolutely" done with docu-style reality TV "forever and ever," and the sisters respect that decision. They also say they'll welcome Tamar back to the show with open arms if she ever changes her mind.
"Tamar needs to get to a place where she wants to do things, as opposed to what we want for her," Trina says. "It has to be what she wants for herself. … So, we have to respect that and, you know, forge on, and if we come to a place where we can work on something else in the future, then we will. But it has to be her decision, because we want to make sure that her mental wellness is first and foremost."
The family's journey with Tamar's struggles is only part of the story that will play out in season 7. The lead-up to Trina's wedding to Von Scales -- and then, the wedding itself -- is a center point of the first few episodes, and in true BFV style, it’s a dramatic affair.
"It was very last minute, the flowers didn't show up, cake-tastrophes, a whole situation happened without me knowing, because my sisters kept it from me, thank god," Trina teases.
"I wanted to make sure it didn't affect Trina and Von on their special day," Towanda says of the mysterious moment. "I kept it from her so much so that she just found out about it on this past Friday, during an interview! So, I think I did an amazing job keeping it from her."
The season 7 supertease hints that it's Traci who causes some issues on the big day, as she tells Towanda, "I still don’t like y'all, but now is not the time" ahead of the wedding. It seems like Traci is still holding onto some resentment over the contract dispute drama from years past.
"Traci is not only starting to create boundaries, she's now giving people consequences if they do cross the boundaries," Towanda says. "I think a lot of things were swept underneath the rug for so long, and it was suppressed for so long that Traci was just like, enough is enough. I'm tired of this."
"We still sometimes relate to each other as if we are still in an adolescent stage," Trina adds. "We still revert back to how we were when we grew up, and we have to realize that we're all now grown women … [and] we can't do it this way any longer because we are grown-ups now."
On top of the family’s ever-changing dynamic is the coronavirus pandemic, which stopped production on the show midseason. The sisters filmed some moments over Zoom, and recorded their to-camera confessional interviews over video chat, but the itch to see one another in-person grew over time. The show gave them the chance to do that, as Atlanta-based sisters Trina and Towanda flew out to Los Angeles to shoot some one-on-one scenes with their family once restrictions lifted.
"That was actually amazing because that was when we were able to see each other," Trina reflects. "Toni, and Tamar, and Towanda, and Traci and myself, and Mommy, and that was an amazing thing, because I think we kind of had sister withdrawal."
"Even though we work on each other's nerves, when we can't see each other -- it's one thing to not want to see each other because you're mad, but when you're told that you can't, it's a horse of a different color," she continues. "So, when we were able to see each other again, it was a great reunion. It was great."
Trina and Towanda hope those moments, the fun, love-filled ones, are what shine through this season. Yes, there's the heaviness of everything that unfolded with Tamar, but there's a lot of light, too.
"You guys are going to see us laughing and being happy and being jovial, and that's what I'm looking forward to the fans seeing," Trina says.