Leva Bonaparte on Being Southern Charm 's First Cast Member of Color: 'I'm No Rookie'

Jodi Guglielmi
·2 min read

John Valkos/Bravo Leva Bonaparte

Leva Bonaparte is here to bring some much-needed change to Charleston.

Ahead of the Southern Charm season 7 premiere, Bonaparte opens up to PEOPLE about being the show's first cast member of color, saying, "It'll be nice for viewers to see my version of Charleston."

"I'm no rookie to being the different person in the room on all levels. So that's nothing new to me," she says. "That's just how I navigate through life regardless."

Bonaparte is Iranian by descent but spent most of her childhood in Canada and South America. While visiting Charleston on a work trip nearly two decades ago, she met her husband and the couple decided to go into the hospitality business together, opening various clubs and restaurants around town.

"In my experience, Charleston has changed tremendously over the past 20 years. But the way I walk through life in Charleston is definitely different than my white friends or my Black friends," she says. "I think it'll be nice for viewers to see that there is a diverse group of people that are having some uncomfortable conversations, and that's where all the good stuff and healing begins."

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John Valkos/Tommy Garcia/Bravo

In the season 7 trailer, Bonaparte is seen confronting Kathryn Dennis after she was accused of racism for using a monkey emoji during an exchange with Black radio show host Tamika Gadsden. (Dennis, 29, has apologized for the racially insensitive incident, acknowledging that "using a monkey emoji in my text was offensive.")

"It just had to be addressed," Bonaparte says of the conversation with Dennis. "It was important because we were building a friendship, and I felt like I had been really gracious. Over the year, there were a few sort of grievances on my part against her, and I kept giving her grace. And at this point, I was just like, 'Enough is enough, and I have to tell you how I feel about what you decided to write, say, do.'"

While Bonaparte says the conversation was difficult at times, she doesn't believe Dennis was coming from a bad place.

"I'd never seen anything like that from her," she says. "So it was the decent thing to do, to hear her out and walk her through it."

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But aside from tough conversations, Bonaparte says she was excited to officially join the cast after making small appearances on the show over the years.

"I've known everybody. The people who are on the show are my actual friends in real life," she says. "I was pleasantly surprised and had a good time. So I'm happy I did it."

Season 7 of Southern Charm premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.