On Shonda Rhimes, Race, and the New York Times
Let me start off by saying this: I’ve been a fan of Shonda Rhimes’ shows since Grey’s Anatomy first debuted. I was all over the tequila, the Mer/Der romance, and the awesomeness that is Cristina Yang. I loved how Bailey was teeny tiny, but commanded respect. I’ve watched Private Practice, and Scandal. And yes, I’m totally THERE for How to Get Away With Murder. Because I haven’t found a Shondaland show that doesn’t appeal to me.
Here’s my second confession: I’m a five-foot-five white girl. I love Olivia Pope. I never once looked at her and thought she was an angry black woman. Does the show address race? Sometimes, yes. In a way that has importance and relevance, reminding us that it is still an issue in society today. Because it is. Anyone who tells you differently isn’t paying attention.
So, imagine my surprise when I was reading this article in the NYTimes, when I discovered the insane analysis and reduction of the characters, by the writer. Let’s just take a look at the first line, okay? Here:
When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”
Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING me? No. NOPE. That is not okay. It’s insanely offensive. First of all, if you reduce characters to be ONE stereotypical thing, you’re clearly not paying enough attention. What I find incredibly appealing about ALL of Rhimes’ characters is that they’re multifaceted. No one is all good or all bad. They’re FLAWED. And they’re human. To imply that Rhimes simple writes angry black women is derogative and shortsighted at best.
Let’s look at another quote, shall we? Behold:
Be it Kerry Washington on “Scandal” or Chandra Wilson on “Grey’s Anatomy,” they can and do get angry.
Okay, hold up. Find me a character on either of those shows who DOESN’T get angry at some point. Why is anger the defining characteristic? This isn’t reinventing the wheel, guys. Characters do things. They have feelings, and they’re not always pretty. No one gets angry more spectacularly that Cyrus Beene (Scandal).
Now, there’s also this:
One of the more volcanic meltdowns in soap opera history was Olivia’s “Earn me” rant on “Scandal.”
First of all, as a longtime fan of the show (and a Scandal-Thursday tweeter), let me explain someone about Liv, as a character: she never reacts for no reason. This “rant” wasn’t a meltdown. It was a woman standing up for herself in a relationship, drawing lines and boundaries. There was nothing tantrum-like about it. To reduce it to such a definition is unobservant at best.
When I got to this part, though, I felt like the top of my head was going to pop off:
Even now, six years into the Obama presidency, race remains a sensitive, incendiary issue not only in Ferguson, Mo., but also just about everywhere except ShondaLand, as her production company is called.
First of all, Scandal does address race in the context of both the character and the plotlines. It’s not freakin’ utopia. Second of all, you know why race may appear to be less of an issue in Rhimes’ shows? Because she casts widely and diversely. And it’s pretty damn wonderful.
I’m skipping ahead in the article, because a large chunk of it made me apoplectic. I can’t even comment on it without cursing every other word. Let’s address this little gem:
[Rhimes’ characters] struggle with everything except their own identities, so unconcerned about race that it is barely ever mentioned.
Um, what? First of all, all of the characters (at some point) struggle with identity. Otherwise, it would be a very boring show. Again, Cyrus had a complicated backstory and though gay was once married to a woman. So, if that’s not an identity struggle, I don’t know what is. Additionally, on Scandal, several scenes between Liv and her dad effectively illustrate how race has affected Liv’s identity. Go watch this, especially the ‘twice as good’ part. I’ll wait. I’m pretty sure that scene invalidates the abovementioned statement.
I have to wonder, honestly, why the Times thought that steaming pile of bullshit was fit to print. I have no clever closing line for this post. I’m just furious that something like that was thought to be good reporting.