@petenowa did u know u were "an angry black woman"?
September 19, 2014 10:35 AM   Subscribe

This morning, the New York Times published "Wrought in Their Creator’s Image", an article talking about the new network series “How to Get Away With Murder", produced by Shonda Rimes and starring Viola Davis. The articles claims about the beauty and character of Black women have created a discussion, from Rimes herself and others about the stereotype of the "angry Black woman" and whether Ms. Davis is, as the Times suggests #lessclassicallybeautiful than other women because of the age and color of her skin.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (59 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”

Jesus.
posted by kagredon at 10:45 AM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, 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.”
Reading this carefully it's pretty clear that the author is not suggesting Viola Davis is less beautiful BECAUSE she is darker-skinned and older, but rather she is three things: older, darker-skinned, AND less classically beautiful (than actresses who are, at least in part, famed for their beauty).
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:45 AM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I always thought that Rhimes' central theme was the disappointment and betrayal that is to be expected from blood relatives, and the necessity of creating and sustaining intentional non-blood-related 'families.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:48 AM on September 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


The Times article says that she's "less classically beautiful than [Kerry] Washington". I.e that Kerry Washington (and Halle Berry) is prettier than she is. That's...well that's something but its a little bit different than "#lessclassicallybeautiful than other women" (because of the age and color of her skin no less).
posted by deathmaven at 10:49 AM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I meant her age, skin color and other features.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:51 AM on September 19, 2014


Jesus.

Read the article, not just the first sentence before commenting. It's clear the reviewer it noting Rhimes for taking the angry black woman trope and recasting it where major black female characters DO great angry and isn't racist. They're coming from a particular culture that may get angry in certain way, but it isn't a negative aspect. It just is. Almost like they're human.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:51 AM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


That article is offensive and it doesn't even sound like she watches the shows she's discussing. But then, Alessandra Stanley has always been a hack.

I don't understand why the NYT continues to employ her; you can barely spend 10 minutes online today without coming across thoughtful people posting excellent discussions of TV.
posted by lalex at 10:52 AM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]




Say what you want about the rest of the article, but this
C. C. H. Pounder, who played an aboveboard detective on “The Shield,” has a less-imposing gig on a new CBS spinoff, “NCIS: New Orleans.” Now she plays a warmhearted, slightly kooky medical examiner. If Shonda Rhimes were in charge of that show, Ms. Pounder would be the star, not Scott Bakula, and she would wear ivory and cream designer suits to crime scenes in the bayou, reign as queen of her krewe at the Mardi Gras ball and also advise the governor’s re-election campaign.
is now the great glittering fantasy I never knew I had.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:02 AM on September 19, 2014 [24 favorites]


Final thing: (then I am gonna do some yoga): how come I am not "an angry black woman" the many times Meredith (or Addison!) rants? @nytimes

Because the reviewer is awkwardly praising you for the good you've done in making black female characters three dimensional. They do get angry, yet don't fall into the racist stereotype of the Angry Black Woman, who is defined solely by her anger.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:05 AM on September 19, 2014


It's clear the reviewer it noting Rhimes for taking the angry black woman trope and recasting it where major black female characters DO great angry and isn't racist.

Is it clear? The review is all over the place. The reviewer asserts something similar to what you're saying further down the page (Ms. 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.), but then somehow the thesis shifts to how race isn't an issue on Rhimes's shows, which...really?

There's the beginning of some interesting points in there, but whoever was supposed to edit it fell down on the job, hard.
posted by kagredon at 11:06 AM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


The review is a goddamn mess. For true, Brandon, I'm having a really hard time finding Because the reviewer is awkwardly praising you for the good you've done in making black female characters three dimensional in
Ms. Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable.
posted by rtha at 11:09 AM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


jinx owe you a coke I think
posted by rtha at 11:10 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]




The caricature is noted for being trite, then remarks that Rhime recast it and made it enviable i.e. positive, not negative. Unless enviable has suddenly changed definition, the phrase reads as praise.

Agree that the review in general is a mess and sort of all over the place, but I don't think Rhimes was being castigated.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I watched an interview with Shonda Rimes last night. I don't watch any of the shows she's been involved in, but I found the interview fairly fascinating. One of the questions was, "Who would pay you on TV?" She rattled off a bunch of actors she said were already playing her. About half them were white women and one was a white guy.

She also said she's constantly asked how she can write such smart women. She said she doesn't know any dumb women, so she wouldn't know how to write that (or something like that), she also pointed out no one ever asks this question about men. "How do you write such intelligent men?" is just not a question that gets asked.

It was a same planet, different worlds interview for me, and touched on a lot of things I do spend time thinking about, and some I had never considered.

It's free to watch on the ABC Apple TV app if the above link doesn't work for you.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


(Should I be watching Scandal? I got burned on Grey's Anatomy but hating the two central characters from the start should probably have been a clue for me.)
posted by kmz at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2014


Alessandra Stanley has been called out before for asinine reviews. This should be her swan song.
posted by readery at 11:19 AM on September 19, 2014



Alessandra Stanley has been called out before for asinine reviews. This should be her swan song.


This looks like they are calling her out for factual mistake, not necessarily asinine reviews.
posted by josher71 at 11:23 AM on September 19, 2014


*drives by thread in a Mazda Miata with the top down*

wwwwwwwwWatch Being Mary Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaane!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:34 AM on September 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Viola Davis has been an incredible and underused actor for a while now (god damn she's good in Solaris). But every time I see the posters for "How To Get Away With Murder", I just wanna write "Join the NYPD" below.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:03 PM on September 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


my twitter incoming (or whatever they call it) has been on fire over this review. many awesome, intelligent, beautiful, strong, opinionated black women are discussing the problem with the trope, the intent and effect of it, and the fallacy of respectability politics. i trust their reading of it. as to the lessclassicallybeautiful stuff, the writer would have to be purposefully daft to not know that there's a longstanding tension between dark skinned and lighter skinned black women and how one group is often seen as more beautiful by media/audiences/hollywood/studios/record labels/etc. some of the women i'm reading are wondering if this writer was hoping for this reaction to give her the ammo needed for a "black twitter are bullies!" article.
posted by nadawi at 12:04 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


older, darker-skinned, AND less classically beautiful (than actresses who are, at least in part, famed for their beauty).

Yeah, but there's the problem that "classically beautiful" as a phrase describes an ideal that tends to exclude people of color. I don't think the author's intention was to condone that standard, but it's kind of ambiguous whether that's something she was trying to criticize, or just an assumption of hers that she didn't stop to examine, and this is the kind of topic where framing makes a big difference in how your point will be understood. It's kind of the difference between "Women don't write successful tv shows" and "There are barriers that have hindered women from succeeding in television."
posted by kagredon at 12:15 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


...or what nadawi said, really.
posted by kagredon at 12:15 PM on September 19, 2014


some of the women i'm reading are wondering if this writer was hoping for this reaction to give her the ammo needed for a "black twitter are bullies!" article.

That's weird level of forward thinking to attribute to someone whose smarts you don't think much of.
posted by josher71 at 12:21 PM on September 19, 2014


That's weird level of forward thinking to attribute to someone whose smarts you don't think much of.

Nah, most of the "I said a dumb thing and people were mean on Twitter" articles I've read have been pretty stupid.
posted by kagredon at 12:22 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


shitty writers looking for page views by insulting black twitter is sort of a thing that happens a lot.
posted by nadawi at 12:23 PM on September 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


...it's pretty clear that the author is not suggesting Viola Davis is less beautiful BECAUSE she is darker-skinned and older, but rather she is three things: older, darker-skinned, AND less classically beautiful (than actresses who are at least in part famed for their beauty).
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:45 PM on September 19


And what, pray tell, does one mean by "less classically beautiful"?

Because where I come from? Phrases like "less classically beautiful" are used for black women whose skin is more dark brown than light brown, whose cheek bones are more prominent, whose lips are fuller, whose noses aren't flat, and whose hair is curlier.

In other words, "looks more African and less European".

So I don't understand the author's intent, here. It's claimed that she isn't suggesting Ms. Davis is less beautiful. But with her choice of words, the author is--intentionally or not--saying that Davis is less "classically" beautiful when compared to black actresses whose appearance approaches the European beauty standard. That's really, really not much better than just plain "less beautiful".

The author may not have meant to, but dear Lord, has she stepped in it. This sort of thing is how you take a perfectly calm, reasonable black woman and MAKE her angry. And when I say angry, I mean taste-your-own-blood angry. Like, the-Incredible-Hulk-finds-better-things-to-do-with-his-time-than-mess-with-you angry.

I see that Ms. Rhimes has responded, and appears every bit as offended by the NYT article as I am. I may have to do as Ms. Rhimes did, and go dance this one off.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:25 PM on September 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


...or what nadawi said, really.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:30 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm glad that we're at least having these conversations, but sometimes when outlets like the NYT wade into race conversations they are so damn clumsy about it that you just want to shake them and shout, do you never read Twitter? Or Tumblr? Those places are on fire with conversations about race, feminism, beauty standards, media representation, you name it.

Ms. Stanley is very probably a nice and well-meaning person, but it's getting tiring to watch fellow white people skip cluelessly into the minefield of racial discussions without having the faintest understanding of the very loud and easy-to-find conversations going on all around them. Of course if she had, she might have been too intimidated to write anything at all.

The obvious answer is that the NYT needs to hire more writers of color.
posted by emjaybee at 12:31 PM on September 19, 2014 [13 favorites]


The obvious answer is that the NYT needs to hire more writers of color.
posted by emjaybee at 3:31 PM on September 19


How have they done in diversity hiring since Jayson Blair? I always wondered if that incident would scare the Times off hiring minorities.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:40 PM on September 19, 2014


shitty writers looking for page views by insulting black twitter is sort of a thing that happens a lot.

Can I get some examples?
posted by josher71 at 12:55 PM on September 19, 2014


The practice of writing trolling articles for eyeballs is not an unknown thing. *I* wouldn't say it's happening here, just a side effect of a generally poor writer writing a non-hot mess of an article.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:05 PM on September 19, 2014


Here's Vulture's takedown.
posted by rewil at 1:10 PM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


The practice of writing trolling articles for eyeballs is not an unknown thing.

I get this. But I think it's weird to say that someone isn't too smart but smart enough to plan on having their next article written about how black Twitter hates them.
posted by josher71 at 1:13 PM on September 19, 2014


Here's Vulture's takedown.

If the NYT went away people wouldn't have much to hatewrite about.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:21 PM on September 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


> If the NYT went away people wouldn't have much to hatewrite about

The NYT has the second highest circulation in the US. It isn't an on-line troll we should all ignore. If it fucks up, it should be criticized.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:28 PM on September 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


Dorothy Snarker @dorothysnarker · 1h Isn't it nice when we, as a people, come together as and agree on the big issues. Like Alessandra Stanley is the world's worst TV critic.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:33 PM on September 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


calling someone purposefully daft isn't the same as calling someone dumb. it's weird how you're harping on this. some of the people on black twitter think they're being trolled - that's not an out there assumption that needs stacks of facts to back it up.
posted by nadawi at 1:37 PM on September 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's claimed that she isn't suggesting Ms. Davis is less beautiful. But with her choice of words, the author is--intentionally or not--saying that Davis is less "classically" beautiful when compared to black actresses whose appearance approaches the European beauty standard. That's really, really not much better than just plain "less beautiful".

Honestly I think it's worse. The 'classically beautiful' line drizzles a nasty dollop of racism all over the impossible female beauty standards.
posted by winna at 2:18 PM on September 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


This article is straight up racist and offensive. What does Shonda Rimes have to do with the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype other than being black?

If the NYT went away people wouldn't have much to hatewrite about

Hatewrite? That takedown is a legitimate destruction of an offensive article.
posted by cell divide at 2:56 PM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


How have they done in diversity hiring since Jayson Blair? I always wondered if that incident would scare the Times off hiring minorities.

If they now assume that all Black people have a tendency to plagiarize, I guess it would.

This article is straight up racist and offensive. What does Shonda Rimes have to do with the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype other than being black?

I think the writer perhaps got caught up Ms Rimes' appearance. "Angry Black Woman" is often used as an amalgam of the Mammy and Sapphire stereotypes and the writer seems particularly hung up on looks.

I agree with some of the suggestions upthread that this writer may have been deliberately trying to provoke Black twitter. If nothing else it would up the number of clicks on her article.
posted by fuse theorem at 3:32 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ugh that article is fucking racist. It's pretty much "OMG I noticed there are some black women on TV! Let me say some racist things about them!"
posted by medusa at 3:48 PM on September 19, 2014


I think it's a strange assertion given it's the NYT. I didn't think it was harping to ask about examples. This is pretty much a derail so I will leave it at that.
posted by josher71 at 4:17 PM on September 19, 2014


The NYT is hardly immune from publishing poorly-thought out clickbait for pageviews.
posted by kagredon at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2014


#lessclassicallybeautiful is the most personally relatable hashtag i've ever seen.
posted by bruce at 5:14 PM on September 19, 2014


I just came back from a lecture with Shondra Rhimes herself where she addressed the article (I feel like I'm on the hyper net, among an audience full of "commenters" waiting to hear her response to an article we all read a few hours earlier). She said "I didn't know I was an angry black woman. I woke up this morning a very happy black woman, until I read that article".

She snarkily wondered, pointing out that she's neither a lawyer, a "fixer" or a surgeon, what makes these characters "wrought in their creators image" (she also pointed out that one of them was created by a white man).
posted by deathmaven at 7:44 PM on September 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


That's a terrible article. Ranking Black women by looks? Really? Are you fucking kidding me? Hey, nobody ranks male actors by looks, though I could easily say that Tom Hanks and Robert de Niro are less conventionally attractive than Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Denzel Washington, etc. The whole article is appalling, just appalling.
posted by theora55 at 8:52 PM on September 19, 2014


Off-topic, I wish I had thought of "Dorothy Snarker."

But seriously, the article was ridiculous.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:17 PM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


NY Times TV Critic Defends Angry Black Woman Story - "The whole point of the piece—once you read past the first 140 characters—is to praise Shonda Rhimes for pushing back so successfully on a tiresome but insidious stereotype," television critic Alessandra Stanley said, according to a Times spokeswoman.

NY Times: An Article on Shonda Rhimes Rightly Causes a Furor, by Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:30 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC: Angry White Men
Wrought in Their Creator’s Image

When Aaron Sorkin writes his autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry White Man.” This week, HBO announced that Mr. Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” will return for its third and final season on November 9.

It is yet another series from Sorkin that showcases a powerful, intimidating white man. This one is Will McAvoy, a blustering, monologue-prone, workplace bully played by Jeff Daniels, who won an Emmy for the role in 2013. And that clinches it: Mr. Sorkin, who wrought Dan Rydell on “Sports Night” and Toby Ziegler on “The West Wing” has done more to reset the image of white men on television than anyone since… Dr Phil.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Mefi's own Linda Holmes, who's an editor for NPR, has this super-awesome reflection about the Times piece and Rhimes: The Only One: A Talk With Shonda Rhimes
Who often gets asked about television as a whole? About people of color on television? About black women on television? Who's expected to act as broadcast television's conscience and diversity czar? Shonda Rhimes. And every minute she's asked to spend serving that function, valuable and necessary as it is, and perfectly understandable as it is that people are curious about her experiences, is a minute she's not answering the same questions Damon Lindelof gets, or Joss Whedon gets, or Chuck Lorre gets. She's not talking about her process, she's not talking about her characters, she's not telling her silly show business stories. She's saying, yes, this is bad (as we know). Yes, this is a loss (as we know). Yes, networks who ignore entire audiences are leaving viewers on the table at a time when nobody can afford to do that (as we know).
(Really, I enjoyed Holmes's piece so much I would've front paged it if this post wasn't already here.)
posted by dnash at 1:27 PM on September 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


I read elsewhere that this article also had a line or section identifying Nicole Beharie as a "sidekick" on Sleepy Hollow rather than as one of the two main leads.

Now there's a correction at the bottom of the article and Nicole Beharie's name has been removed from the main text. I guess if she's a lead, she's no longer worthy of a mention in the text?

Ugh. Alessandra Stanley really is a hack.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:58 PM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]




I read elsewhere that this article also had a line or section identifying Nicole Beharie as a "sidekick" on Sleepy Hollow rather than as one of the two main leads.

The real scandal of Sleepy Hollow is how it perpetuates the stereotype of the Angry Headless Man.
posted by homunculus at 8:20 PM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I read elsewhere that this article also had a line or section identifying Nicole Beharie as a "sidekick" on Sleepy Hollow rather than as one of the two main leads.

Yeah, I distinctly remember reading that line and going "sidekick, really?", but I sort of let it pass because while the writing and Beharie's acting have made Abbie absolutely the most vital part of the show IMO, the early promotion materials were kind of more about Ichabod, and I wasn't totally sure how the billing worked out.

(It was in this sentence: "There are obviously many more black women on network television now, but most still are worthy sidekicks, like the rollicking, sarcastic road-trip companion Sherri Shepherd played on “How I Met Your Mother.”"; IIRC, the wording was something like "the lovely police lieutenant played by Nicole Beharie", which, I mean, lovely is certainly an applicable adjective, but it's not the first one I'd choose, you know?)
posted by kagredon at 10:46 PM on September 22, 2014


[CAN YOU TELL I'M REALLY EXCITED THAT SLEEPY HOLLOW IS BACK]
posted by kagredon at 10:46 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


"The whole point of the piece—once you read past the first 140 characters—is to praise Shonda Rhimes for pushing back so successfully on a tiresome but insidious stereotype," television critic Alessandra Stanley said, according to a Times spokeswoman.

This is something I've been thinking about a bit for the last few days--the real problem is that if you assert that Rhimes is pushing back against a stereotype, you have to show your work on that. Because, just as Strong Female Characters are not necessarily strong, female characters, a character being black, a woman, and occasionally angry does not mean that she is either an Angry Black Woman or a response to the Angry Black Woman stereotype. Rhimes's responses over the past few days make it pretty clear that she sees her own work as existing entirely orthogonal to the Angry Black Woman trope--some of her characters are angry, some are black, some are women, and some are all three, but they are conceived and written entirely apart from that trope.

Or, to use TVTropes's parlance, there's a difference between subverting a trope and averting it entirely. When you treat Rhimes's work as the former and not the latter, without presenting much clear evidence for why you think she's addressing the trope head-on, other than some of her characters being angry, black, and women, then it sort of read like that's the only way you know to contextualize black female characters who experience normal human emotions, which is not such a great message to send.
posted by kagredon at 10:58 PM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]




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