The New York Times wanted an "angry black woman," and it got one.
Though Viola Davis, Kerry Washington and Oprah Winfrey have openly praised Shonda Rhimes for writing complex characters for black women in primetime, Alessandra Stanley argued the opposite. While reviewing the freshman series How to Get Away With Murder, debuting this Thursday on ABC, the critic threw major shade at the TV Titan. "When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman," she wrote Thursday.
Stanley described Davis' HTGAWM character, who is a criminal defense lawyer and law professor, as "powerful" and "intimidating."
Noting that Grey's Anatomy's Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) and Scandal's Olivia Pope (Washington) "can and do get angry," Stanley argued that the 44-year-old showrunner "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." The critic added that Rhimes' "work is mercifully free of uplifting role models, parables and moral teachings."
Stanley also attacked Davis, a Tony winner. "The actress doesn't look at all like the typical star of a network drama," she wrote. "Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series Extant." Stanely argues that Rhimes "is a romance writer" and not a drama writer. "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."
There's a glaring fact that Stanley overlooked in her critique: HWTGAWM was actually created by Pete Nowalk, an openly gay white man who previously worked with Rhimes on Grey's Anatomy and Scandal.
Here's how Rhimes responded:
Coincidentally, when Davis was profiled by The New York Times on Sept. 12, she acknowledged that her blackness has been a barrier in Hollywood, saying, "A 25-year-old white actress who is training at Yale or Juilliard or SUNY Purchase or N.Y.U. today can look at a dozen white actresses who are working over age 40 in terrific roles. You can't say that for a lot of young black girls. That's why I'm doing what I'm doing."
"I have been given a lot of roles that are downtrodden, mammy-ish," Davis, 49, said. "A lot of lawyers or doctors who have names but absolutely no lives. You're going to get your three or four scenes, you're not going to be able to show what you can do. You're going to get your little bitty paycheck, and then you're going to be hungry for your next role, which is going to be absolutely the same. That's the truth."
The Oscar-nominated actress is ecstatic about her lead TV role in HTGAWM.
"It's what I've had my eye on for so long," Davis said. "It's time for people to see us, people of color, for what we really are: complicated."