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'Selling Sunset’ star Amanza Smith talks pushing through pain after disappearance of her ex

The breakout star of "Selling Sunset" opens up to TODAY on the disappearance of her ex-husband and how it pushed her to believe in herself.
"Selling Sunset" Amanza Smith opened up to TODAY in a new interview about the disappearance of her ex-husband Ralph Brown and parenting two tweens in the spotlight. 
"Selling Sunset" Amanza Smith opened up to TODAY in a new interview about the disappearance of her ex-husband Ralph Brown and parenting two tweens in the spotlight. Nino Munoz via Netflix
/ Source: TODAY

On the Netflix hit reality show “Selling Sunset,” luxury homes in the Hollywood Hills are paired with the drama of agents at The Oppenheim Group, a buzzy real estate group that at times seems more like a modeling firm than a brokerage. But this last season, the plot lines — which mainly surrounded two hearts vying for the same real estate bro we never even saw — was a bit underwhelming, leaving much to be desired. But one story that resonated with many viewers was the experience of Amanza Smith, and what happened after her ex-husband and father of two children went missing in 2019.

“It’s a blessing and a curse that my drama was actually real — real enough to keep people tuned in,” Smith told TODAY, agreeing that the drama felt a little “stale” this season. “Sadly, yes, it was all very real, and it wasn’t something that was super easy to share with the world. But when I got into the situation that I’m in, I already had signed the contract. We started filming season two, and then a month later my children’s father disappeared.”

In 2010, Smith was married to NFL player Ralph Brown, who played for the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Arizona Cardinals, and Minnesota Vikings during his ten years in the league. The couple divorced in 2012 and were awarded 50/50 custody of their two children, daughter Noah and son Braker, now 12 and 10.

“When I signed on to do the show, my life was very different,” Smith explained. “I was a part-time single mom where I had my kids for one week, and then they went to daddy for one week. I remember signing the contract and saying 'Every other week I can film 24 hours a day. I’m totally free! The kids will be with their dad.' Then a month later, a bomb dropped with cameras all around me.” 

Amanza Smith with her daughter, Noah.Courtesy Amanza Smith

At the time of his disappearance, Smith nor any of Brown’s friends had any idea where he was. Today, Smith still doesn’t know, but while season four was taping earlier this year, her lawyer discovered court filings where Brown had renounced his legal and physical custodial rights of Noah and Braker.

“Maybe had I known what was going to happen, I probably wouldn’t have signed up to do a reality show...but I mean, everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I’m glad that I did, because I’ve heard a lot of other people say I’m relatable, which makes me feel sad other people can relate to the situation. Unfortunately it happens a lot more than we’d like to admit, and you can still be a badass mom while going through it.”

And badass Smith is. In addition to parenting two tweens full-time, the former model and current home stager, real estate agent, and reality star has a lot on her plate. "When this happened, it actually forced me to push myself into overdrive and I opened up doors that maybe would not have opened so quickly," she said. "It really pushed me to accelerate, believe in myself and find my full potential. It pushed me into go mode. I didn't have the option to procrastinate or slack. It opened up something in me that was the boost I needed."

Smith is so busy, she may be late here and there, a quirk that quickly evolved into a problematic narrative on "Selling Sunset."

The cast of "Selling Sunset."Matt Winkelmeyer/2021 MTV Movie / Getty Images for MTV/ViacomCBS

“I wasn’t saying to the world in season two what was going on with my ex,” she said. “I tiptoed around it because I didn’t know what I could say, so it looked even worse. But then it was a thing, and then I actually was super late a lot because of circumstances that were absolutely unavoidable to me.”

But Smith said that this past season, she worked really hard to show up — and show up on time.

“When we started season four, I was like that’s not my f--king narrative this season, pardon my French. I’m not the ‘late girl.’ I’m definitely not the ‘ethnic late girl.’ That’s a thing too, right? Black people time? Like we’re always late. I’m not trying to represent my people and make the stereotype true. That’s not the narrative.”

At times, Smith has felt the pressure of being the only representation of non-whiteness on "Selling Sunset." Bi-racial, Smith said that at first she struggled with talking about race, mostly because she didn't really have the tools or information to engage her rapidly growing following, especially during the racial reckoning the country experienced in 2020.

“I needed to educate myself and become more aware of exactly how hard and different and difficult it is, continues to be, and has been for women of color that are darker than me, because now all of a sudden — I may be light skinned, and I may be the only one — but because I’m the only one on this show, I’m now representing all of my sisters,” she said. “So I need to be able to relate in a way or empathize or sympathize and have an idea of what to say, how to step up, and how to speak up for these women."

"I didn’t sign up to be the class president for African American females in real estate. But now I need to step up."

AMANZA SMITH

"There were a couple of things that I wasn’t proud to say that I wasn’t completely aware of," she added. "(I thought) 'You need to do better as a Black woman. Now you have a platform.' I didn’t sign up to be the class president for African American females in real estate. But now I need to step up and make sure I am going to speak about something and know where I stand."

Smith does know where she stands when dealing with negative commentary online, and the pervasive misconceptions out there about her. She says she deals with all types of comments, from people comparing her to Carole Baskin — the "Tiger King" subject who has been accused of being involved in the disappearance of her second husband — to followers assuming Smith is set up for life because her ex-husband was an NFL player.

"When I got my divorce, I cleaned houses, I worked at BCBG retail, I was walking dogs. I did every odd job I could to make money to support my kids, because I wasn't getting child support," she explained. "So that misconception really bothered me. Still to this day, people who don't know my story know I have two kids and their dad was an NFL player. But they probably just don't know how hard I worked. They don't know what we've been through."

Smith with Taye Diggs in 2017.Kevin Mazur / Getty Images

Smith also feels like she has to explain her dating track record, which has a few other notable names, including Taye Diggs — who she dated for five years — and 'NSYNC's JC Chasez, whom she dated for a short time when she first moved to Los Angeles back in 2001.

"People say, 'Why don't you ever just date a regular dude?' I've dated a small — not even a whole handful — cluster of people that had some celebrity. I've also dated like, hundreds of regular dudes. (People ask) 'Why don't you just date a regular dude?' Finally — after years of therapy and becoming confident — I would say to them now 'Because I'm not f-king regular."

Above all else, Smith — who is currently dating someone but won't say who — wants to remain a body positive role model to her two kids. Celebrating her 45th birthday on Dec. 11, trolls attempted to censor her content by reminding her in the comments section she is a mom of two tweens in her mid-40s. Unfazed, their comments only inspire her to post more skin. To this, she said, “I want my children and especially my daughter to know it’s OK to be proud of your body.”

Smith with her son, Braker.Courtesy Amanza Smith

The message may be getting through.

During her first ever appearance walking in a fashion show in October, Smith said the designers had to improvise a last minute outfit when what was planned for her didn't fit because according to them, she was "too thick." Embarrassed by what they at threw her in a ditch effort to get on her on the runway in something, she sauntered down the catwalk with her head between her shoulders — until she caught sight of her daughter in the audience.

"Standing over to the side is my 12-year-old daughter with her phone out, making a video with the biggest teeth-y grin, giving me a thumbs up," she said. "She was so proud. I had to fight back tears getting off the runway because I'm like, 'Oh my God. She is so proud of me.' That just meant everything to me."

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