Shonda Rhimes is more than just a one-dimensional stereotype, but from reading Alessandra Stanley’s recent New York Times essay on the TV pioneer, you’d never be able to tell.
Stanley’s article, which began by characterizing Rhimes as "an angry black woman," drew intense backlash from Rhimes herself via Twitter and even spawned a response from NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan, who questioned the "tone deaf" article. Although Stanley reassured critics that the piece aimed to "praise" Rhimes, her defense was not enough to quell the public outcry.
In a HuffPost Live conversation, writer Mikki Kendall, who created the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen, swiftly took down the Times article and lambasted the author's "peculiar" characterization of Rhimes, who she said "doesn't actually write all that angrily." In fact, Rhimes’ characters showcase a vast array of archetypes and personalities.
"We actually rarely see Shonda’s black women get angry. If they do, when they do it’s always for a good reason," she said. "We see Olivia Pope, who is currently the closest thing we have to a black damsel in distress I think we’ve got on modern television. We see [Miranda] Bailey on 'Grey’s Anatomy.' She’s motherly. She’s warm. She’s a lot of things. Angry is actually only something you see from her when it’s deserved…"
The apparent overstatement of race, gender and skin tone for both Rhimes and her characters was another area of contention for BET entertainment editor Clay Cane, who lamented Stanley's disregard of Rhimes' vastly popular TV hits.
"I think a lot of black actors and directors and producers, they’re getting a little bit exhausted of the black question ... Can we focus a bit on the work?" he told host Caroline Modaressay-Tehrani. "There are so many things to talk to Shonda Rhimes about."
While it’s important to acknowledge her race and gender, Cane added, it shouldn't overshadow the prolific producer's multifaceted talents -- some of which were lauded by actresses Kerry Washington and Viola Davis in a recent article for The Hollywood Reporter.
"It’s not like we have to act like we’re colorblind," he said.
Kendall echoed Cane's criticism and derided the piece's lack of "cultural competency." Although the story of a successful black woman may have been groundbreaking in the past, that narrative has since become a bit passé.
"We should no longer be surprised that black people do things," Kendall said. "We’re 50 years past Jim Crow. Now we should not be going, 'Oh my God, I didn’t know black doctors existed. I didn’t know black lawyers existed.'"
Watch the full segment about Shonda Rhimes and the “angry black woman” stereotype here.
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