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In a widely panned review of How to Get Away With Murder, the new ABC series which stars Viola Davis as a criminal defense lawyer and law professor, The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley tried to take down EP Shonda Rhimes. In the process, the TV critic also offended Davis by comparing her to lighter-skinned African American stars.
"The actress doesn't look at all like the typical star of a network drama," Stanley wrote in her review, which spawned several think pieces. "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 [Kerry Washington], or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series Extant." Davis seemingly replied via Twitter, writing, "You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I'll rise!!!"
The quote comes from the late Maya Angelou's Still I Rise, published in 1978.
Davis didn't link to the article, but it's believed she was responding to Stanley's story.
In addition to Washington, Scandal stars Bellamy Young, Josh Malina and Joe Morton expressed their outrage over the article via Twitter. Grey's Anatomy actress Ellen Pompeo, plus TV stars Yvette Nicole Brown, Lena Dunham and Octavia Spencer, also spoke out against Stanley's poorly received review via their social media accounts.
Stanley stood by her controversial critique, telling BuzzFeed News, "The whole point of the piece...is to praise Shonda Rhimes for pushing back so successfully on a tiresome but insidious stereotype." Whatever her intent, the message was lost in translation.