I'm not a control freak. I just think you should think like me.
What’s interesting is both of Stanley’s pieces were dated 9/18/14; maybe Stanley pulled an all-nighter? Or maybe the assignment began as a longer article that she “repurposed” as two shorter pieces. In any case, both of her stories cover television dramas with strong, independent women as lead characters. But the contrast in the two articles is striking. When the leading women are white, they are described in complex terms; when they are African-American, they are described in stereotypical “angry black women” code words: threatening, intimidating, fearsome. With very few other colors (pun intended).
Here are some examples. (Bear with me. I tried to format this with indentations, italics, bold quotes..and it all went to hell. So here we go. Thanks.)
First, from the Friday article, is Stanley’s description of “Madame Secretary’s” fictional lead character, and the actress who plays her, Tea Leoni:
“Leoni, who has a husky voice and a loose, engaging manner, is an unusually likable beauty. As Elizabeth McCord, she has all the brains and determination
of the original and none of the political ambition and baggage.”
And here’s is one of the reasons Stanley says that after five seasons, “The Good Wife” is still a good watch:
“..another reason for (“The Good Wife”) enduring popularity is that Alicia Florrick, the betrayed wife played by Julianna Margulies, has guile as well as gumption. She is sympathetic but also devious and not beyond using connections, deceiving friends and twisting the truth to get what she wants, including, last season, her own firm.’
Are you with me so far? These powerful white women are complex and have many qualities: brains and determination; guile and guts; they are sympathetic yet devious; truth-twisting and ambitious. All at once. They’re all over the place. They’re intriguing, right? And somehow, they remain anger-free. And a few paragraphs later, Stanley references another new show on NBC, “State of Affairs,” that will star Alfre Woodard and Katherine Heigl. Here’s what she writes:
“State of Affairs…” doubles down by stealing a bit from “Scandal” and a bit from “Homeland.” Alfre Woodard is the president, and Katherine Heigl is her most trusted, though personally troubled, national security adviser.”
Did you catch that? Stanley blows right by Alfre Woodard, an African-American, Oscar nominated, Emmy award- winning film actress who plays the president. No quirks, no adjectives, no mention that the character is black even. But she manages to give an intriguing description of the Katherine Heigl’s character. “Personally troubled.” Hmm. Wonder what that means? Heigl is white. Am I crazy? Am I “harping” on race? I mean..DAMN!
Now we get to Stanley’s second article, “Wrought in Rhimes’ Image,” also dated 9/18. Maybe she was a little tired at this point, because the stereotypes about black women start to fly in the article’s very first line:
“When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”
BOOM. Okay, fine, this is a play on words, incorporating the title of Rhimes’ newest show (“How To Get Away with Murder”) into a button-pushing phrase. But why is Shonda Rhimes an “Angry Black Woman?” What does that even mean? I read it, took a deep breath, and read carefully her description of Rhimes’ characters in general and the newest one in particular:
“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. This one is Annalise Keating, a fearsome criminal defense lawyer and law professor played by Viola Davis.” And that clinches it: Ms. Rhimes, who wrought Olivia Pope on “Scandal” and Dr. Miranda Bailey on “Grey’s Anatomy,” has done more to reset the image of African-American women on television than anyone since Oprah Winfrey.”
It’s true: Shonda Rhimes has single-handedly diversified casts and their leading players more than anyone. She’s introduced female characters of various ethnicities that are every bit as complex as on the shows mentioned earlier. And I believe that because these lead characters are of color it brings a freshness to these characters and helps to dispel old myths about women, color, power, motherhood, work-hood, single-hood and every preconceived notion out there. But what’s bizarre is that Stanley, in this very piece, continues to reinforce those old stereotypes! Check out her adjectives. Why are these powerful women of color “intimidating” and “fearsome,” but the fictional Secretary of State and scorned lawyer-wife aren’t? Who are they intimidating? Who fears them? Alessandra Stanley?
“Her women are authority figures with sharp minds and potent libidos who are respected, even haughty members of the ruling elite, not maids or nurses or office workers.
“Sharp minds.” I’m fine with that, because they’re smart and quick thinking women. “Potent libidos?” Any more “potent” than Alicia Florrick on “The Good Wife?” And “haughty?” Here’s the Merriam-Webster definition of that little cut:
HAUGHTY (adj.): having or showing the insulting attitude of people who think that they are better, smarter, or more important than other people.
Sound familiar? Why not just say “uppity,” Ms. Stanley? Because you’re saying that these smart and powerful characters, these women of color, by virtue of being educated, powerful, or in a position of authority still DON’T KNOW THEIR PLACE. They absolutely are not “better, smarter, or more important than other people.” EVEN IF THEY ARE. So in the end, they aren’t part of any “ruling elite,” as Stanley claims. They are just as marginalized as the maids, nurses, and office workers mentioned. Never is a white character refered to as “haughty.” I’ve got to wonder if Ms. Stanley knows or socializes with any black women, or if there are black women staffers at the Times that might have illuminated Ms. Stanley.
“Be it Kerry Washington on “Scandal” or Chandra Wilson on “Grey’s Anatomy,” they can and do get angry.”
Fine.I can and do get angry. So do black women in real life and as fictional characters. And I’ve come to love my anger, even celebrate it. But that’s not all that we’re about, and Rhimes’ characters reflect that. Her women are confident and confused; ruthless, deadly serious, and hilarious (as Chandra Wilson’s Dr. Bailey has proven over 8 seasons on “Grey’s Anatomy.”) We are workaholics. We feel lonely, even isolated. We are every bit as brainy, sympathetic, determined, and devious as any white woman. We all have quirks.
But again and again in this article Stanley comes back to the same thing:
“..Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable.She has almost single- handedly trampled a taboo even Michelle Obama couldn’t break.”
This is so cheesy. On the one hand, it seems to compliment Shonda Rhimes trailblazing work; on the other hand, it does so by Stanley’s own words reinforcing that very “trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman.” It reminds me of that oh-so-clever 2008 New Yorker cover of candidate Barack Obama and Michelle Obama dressed as a Muslim/Black Nationalist couple, framed photos of Osama Bin Laden in the background, Mr. Obama in muslim garb and Michelle wearing a rifle and a big afro while the couple shared a fist bump. The New Yorker said at the time they were being “ironic” and of course they weren’t suggesting that Obama was secretly a Muslim, just making fun of the fears other people were dealing with. but what did folks remember? That image. Not the ironic cover illustration, which the New Yorker didn’t do with any other presidential candidates that year.
And PS: Michelle Obama broke that taboo to the majority of United States citizens who have a brain.
“As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy..
I guess Stanley is surprised by that.
…in a slightly menacing way..
But Annalise is scary. A menace.
…but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama.
Right. Not like Stanley’s “unusually likeable beauty, Tea Leoni.” Jesus. And this keeps that trend going. More reinforcement that a Tea Leoni is and always will be the standard of beauty, even in a country that’s changing its complexion as we speak.
“Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African- American women are held to..
Uh-oh. This already smells like an insult.
..Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older…
Thanks so much. Actresses have an unfairly short shelf life, so thanks for slapping that label onto Viola Davis. But we have no idea how old Leoni or Julianna Margulies are; somehow that’s not mentioned in Stanley’s earlier piece.
“..darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that @ matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series “Extant.”
Darker-skinned? Less classically beautiful? The one-two punch. Of course Stanley isn’t saying it; she’s referring to beauty standards that some women are “held to” by others. And by carefully laying out that “narrow beauty standard,” in my narror opinion, she reinforces it. Lupita Nyongo was People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman this year; isn’t it possible that narrow beauty standard has widened a bit? Not as long as writers are so willing to reinforce the old ones. And “less classically beautiful,” in case you don’t know, means two things: having the prized so-called “Caucasian” features (‘so-called’ because contrary to lazy stereotypes, not all of our African ancestors had the same features, or colors, or color/feature combinations); and skin color. Just in case you don’t get it, Stanley gives you color-coded examples: Viola=dark; Kerry=less dark; Halle=the lightest. Talk about back-handed compliments.
What’s really upsetting is even with an award-winning talent like Ms. Rhimes, even with hit shows and fresh characters, Alessandra Stanley sees them through a very narrow lens. “Angry Black Woman” has as much relevance here as Kathy Griffin’s comedy special titled “Strong Black Woman” (Griffin is white. Get it? I never did.) It’s painfully clear that Ms. Stanley needs more interaction with black women (which might be difficult now). Failing that, there should have been someone at the Times with the sensitivity to explain why a rewrite was needed.
I’ve lost my steam and don’t feel like going through the rest of her second article, which I’m more than willing to admit. I’m not a journalist, I’m just an opinion chick. Hopefully the links are all here or nearby and you can read the rest of the article for yourself. Shonda Rhimes took issue with the article as well, and there was more from the Times. Have at it.
Thing is, I try to find the funny wherever possible and laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of things. But the blatant contrast of these two articles made me a big ol’ Angry Black Woman. And a lot of other things. p>