This is what happens when a major news publication doesn’t hire a Black writer to write about us.
New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote a piece that was supposed to be how Shonda Rhimes has changed the landscape for Black women on TV, but ended up being a under researched piece that called Rhimes an “Angry Black Woman” who creates leading ladies who are also angry Black women. Stanley started her article in the worst way possible”
“When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.’
On Thursday, Ms. Rhimes will introduce ‘How to Get Away With Murder,’ yet another network series from her production company to showcase a powerful, intimidating black woman.”
Perhaps the worst part of the article aren’t the many questionable lines about “angry” Black women on screen, but that it’s called, “Wrought In Their Creator’s Image.” So she is indeed calling Shonda an angry Black woman. I’m sorry, does Stanley know her?
But here’s the best thing about the internet, Shonda responded:
Boom. I should drop the mic here, but I just have to say this…
“How To Get Away With Murder” was created by a White man named Pete Nowalk. I bet Pete didn’t know he was an “Angry Black Woman,” which Shonda tweeted him to say. Stanley clearly understands that powerful Black women don’t necessarily have to be intimidating. Later in the article, she wrote:
“Ms. Rhimes is a romance writer who understands the need for more spice than sugar; her heroines are mysterious, complicated and extravagantly flawed, often deeply and interestingly. They struggle with everything except their own identities, so unconcerned about race that it is barely ever mentioned.”
Intimidating is just a nicer way of saying angry. The word angry is poison coming off the lips of non-Blacks and painful to the ears of Black women. Our sass, wit and passion are often mistaken as anger because it’s easier to put us in a negative and dismissed category than to think of us as human beings who get mad sometimes.
Stanley skimmed the surface of Shonda’s impressive career and ability to create dynamic characters. Shonda writes characters who run the gamut of emotions, from angry to lustful to depressed and more. Angry is not the only emotion they exhibit. What would have been more interesting in this NY Times piece, and more accurate to read was that Rhimes has given Black women on TV more depth and has created a space for characters to be who they are, regardless of their skin color.
When Dr. Miranda Bailey was created on “Grey’s Anatomy,” her character was colorless and it was Chandra Wilson’s interpretation of the character that impressed the powers that be in casting. Rhimes has not just re-framed the stereotype of the “angry Black woman,” she has opened up what Black female characters are allowed to do on television. Have you ever watched Kerry Washington in “Scandal.” The last time a Black woman lead a major network television show was Diahann Caroll in “Julia” in 1968. Slate breaks down Rhimes’ biggest, boldest and blackest characters perfectly:
“Olivia Pope is conflicted, tortured, in a self-destructive relationship—but she is never anything but ultra-competent. If she has occasionally lost her temper, she has more often bit her tongue, kept her secrets, gulped down her wine. Dr. Bailey dispenses a kind of faux-anger, behaving like a grump and a curmudgeon to cover up her huge heart. And as for Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating, in the one episode of the How To Get Away with Murder available to critics, she is severe, sexy, and Sphinx-like: Who knows, yet, if she even does angry? Describing these women and Rhimes as ‘angry black women’ is a contortion, shoving them into a stereotype that doesn’t fit.”
Why couldn’t Stanley have started the article like this? She completely contradicted herself from the first statement she made: “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.'” What an incredibly botched piece of journalism. I hold the New York Times to a very high standard and now I am questioning their intent. What did you think of the article? What about Shonda Rhimes’ reaction? Sound off in the comments below!