Dear TV critic: Shonda Rhimes isn't 'angry,' she's just black
In the South, we call it "nice-nasty." That thing you do where you simultaneously compliment and insult someone at the same time. And Alessandra Stanley, TV writer for the New York Times, manages to do it more than once in an article on network TV powerhouse Shonda Rhimes's latest show.
The opening line gives the incomparable Rhimes a tip: When she writes her biography, it should be called "How to get away with being an angry black woman."
That's the sound of the record player stopping. The conversation stopping. The simultaneous head-turning (not twisting) of us "angry black women" looking to see if we just read what we think we read.
I watch a lot of TV — more than I should probably admit. Mostly crime shows and medical/law dramas, with a few comedies squeezed in between. So I've seen all levels of intimidating cop/lawyer/doctor. From Michael Chiklis's bad-cop-you-can't-seem-to-hate Vic Mackey in The Shield; to Eriq La Salle's arrogant Dr. Peter Benton on ER to every single character on The Wire. What most of them have in common? They're above the law, self-centered and no-holds-barred. But I don't know that I've ever seen them referred to as angry.
So I was surprised to see the main character from one of my favorite shows, Scandal, along with the other black female leads in Rhimes's shows (the number of which is unprecedented, by the way) referred to as "angry black women." What?
In one quote, Stanley writes: "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."
Has she? How? I take great exception that everyone else on this planet save for black women can be unapologetically intimidating — a hallmark of Rhimes's characters, though they are really "softies" underneath it all. I also take exception that the writer thought this was a compliment.
As the only black woman in most places in the city I live in, I am acutely aware that the "angry black woman" stereotype exists. I am careful to sprinkle not-so-flattering emails with smiley-face emoticons so as not to come across as too aggressive. I try to keep a smile pasted on my face when someone runs into me as the grocery store, so they know, "hey, I'm not an angry black woman." I don't deny that I can be intimidating. But so is nearly every boss I've ever had. And none of them were considered "angry." Of course, none of them were black women either.
Where the writer misses the point is that Rhimes isn't embracing the stereotype of the angry black woman. She is introducing women who are ballsy, who get s*** done, who have faults. Women who are also black. And none of those things make them "angry."
And the fact that Rhimes is a power player in Hollywood — that doesn't characterize her as "angry" either. Well, until this article, that is. Here are a few tweets from her in response to the article:
Welp. Well, said, Shonda. Don't worry about it, the rest of ShondaLand is on it. And it's handled.