Shonda Rhimes and the Angry Black Woman Stereotype

Source: ABC

Source: ABC

In a much-critiqued review of the new TV series How to Get Away With Murder, New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley introduced award-winning super-producer Shonda Rhimes by suggesting that she should call her autobiography “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”

The clichéd piece, which Stanley later said was intended to “praise Shonda Rhimes for pushing back so successfully on a tiresome but insidious stereotype,” was misguided and tone-deaf – but Stanley is hardly the first (and probably won’t be the last) white woman to demean a Black woman with back-handed praise.

In a 2012 Oscar roundtable discussion about the lack of roles for Black actresses, Viola Davis, who stars in the upcoming Rhimes show, spoke to the perception that she is automatically less attractive than women who “look like Halle Berry” – women with lighter skin or more loosely curled hair. It was a candid reflection on the way white supremacy manifests itself in the industry: Eurocentric beauty standards simply drive Davis (and people who look like her) out of the competition for roles for which they are qualified because decision makers think a “whiter” look is more relatable or desirable.

Actress Charlize Theron then interrupted Davis’ complex critique of the political nature of beauty standards to say simply, “You’re hot as sh*t”– failing to process any deeper meaning whatsoever.

The moment was not, as Theron seemed to understand it, about Davis having low self-esteem or seeing herself as less beautiful than Berry, but about understanding how the Hollywood system both fails to create roles for Black women – especially those with dark skin – and see Black women inhabiting roles not specifically created for them.


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