Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Get Away with Being an Angry Black Woman?

         Recently, NYTimes TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote an incredibly condescending and problematic piece on producer wonder woman Shonda Rhimes, creator of nighttime dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, How to Get Away with Murder, and of course, Scandal. When I first came across Stanley’s feature, I was initially excited to learn more about Rhimes because I believe her to be a creative genius. Unfortunately, the article fell really short at capturing Rhimes as a creative and a producer. According to Stanley, Shonda Rhimes has mastered the art of portraying the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman.  With an opening line like, “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called How to Get Away with Being an Angry Black Woman,” I was quickly disappointed. What I found upsetting about this piece, in addition to the blatant racism and perpetuation of Eurocentric ideals of beauty, was just how little research seemed to have gone into it. A cursory Wikipedia search on Rhimes shows just how complex and diverse her storylines and characters have been. To say that Rhimes has perfected the trope of the Angry Black Woman is lazy. 
          As much as has been blogged, tweeted, and said about what the character Olivia Pope does or does not do for the image of black women, it’s impossible not to recognize Rhimes’ body of work as revolutionary and admirable.  She’s changed the face of nighttime television by creating shows with characters that resonate with millions of loyal viewers. Grey’s premiered in 2005 and is now in its 11th season. It seems silly to say, but Grey’s Anatomy was an important part of my foray into adult womanhood. I saw a lot of traits in her lead characters (Cristina Yang , Meredith Grey,  Miranda Bailey), which I wanted to emulate. Despite the improbable story arcs and histrionics, it’s become an important part of our television culture.
          I think to write about Rhimes and what she has done for television without discussing the ways which she have subverted stereotypes and redefined what women can do and look like is, again, is to miss an opportunity to have a conversation not based on stereotypes. Stanley’s article has received a lot of criticism for describing Viola Davis’ character in How to Get Away with Murder as, “At 49, Annalise is sexual even sexy, in a slightly menacing way and is older, darker skinned, and less classically beautiful than Kerry Washington or Halle Berry.” I guess my question for Stanley is, how exactly is having a multidimensional black woman who is older and not of lighter complexion, a replication of the stereotypes which she talks about? Is this not exactly the opposite?

1 comment:

  1. While I haven't seen this New York Times article, the idea of it bothers me because I also love Shonda Rhimes shows, particularly Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and Private Practice. I think saying she portrays the stereotype of the angry black women is not only racist and sexist but it also fails to miss the point that her work actually portrays strong black women. In all three of these shows, she has characters such as Miranda Bailey, Olivia Pope, and Naomi who are strong, confident, and hardworking females.

    -Gianna D'Alessio FSEM 145 Intro to Women's Studies