Before we get into this read please let the record show that Shonda Rhimes is NOT the creator of ABC's new show How To Get Away With Murder starring Viola Davis.
Now, NY Times critic Alessandra Stanley has once again stuck her foot in her mouth. The sketchy critic is the author of an article criticizing executive producer Rhimes for the "angry black women" she creates on screen coupled with a few stereotypical insults towards Ms. Davis and black women in general.
This chick is nuts, all over the place and most of all in need of some attention in which she did get from Shonda via Twitter.
Confused why @nytimes critic doesn't know identity of CREATOR of show she's reviewing. @petenowa did u know u were "an angry black woman"?
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) September 19, 2014
There's more where this tweet came from but let's get into this horrible display of work...
On Thursday, Ms. Rhimes will introduce “How to Get Away With Murder,” yet another network series from her production company to showcase a powerful, intimidating black woman. This one is Annalise Keating, a fearsome criminal defense lawyer and law professor played by Viola Davis. And that clinches it: Ms. Rhimes, who wrought Olivia Pope on “Scandal” and Dr. Miranda Bailey on “Grey’s Anatomy,” has done more to reset the image of African-American women on television than anyone since Oprah Winfrey.
Ms. Rhimes didn’t just construct a series around one African-American woman. She has also introduced a set of heroines who flout ingrained television conventions and preconceived notions about the depiction of diversity.
Her women are authority figures with sharp minds and potent libidos who are respected, even haughty members of the ruling elite, not maids or nurses or office workers. Be it Kerry Washington on “Scandal” or Chandra Wilson on “Grey’s Anatomy,” they can and do get angry. One of the more volcanic meltdowns in soap opera history was Olivia’s “Earn me” rant on “Scandal.”
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.
Her heroines are not at all like the bossy, sassy, salt-of-the-earth working-class women who have been scolding and uh-uh-ing on screen ever since Esther Rolle played Florida, the maid on “Maude.”
They certainly are not as benign and reassuring as Clair Huxtable, the serene, elegant wife, mother and dedicated lawyer on “The Cosby Show.” In 2008, commentators as different as the comedian Bill Cosby and the Republican strategist Karl Rove agreed that it was the shining, if fictional, example of the Huxtables that prepared America for a black president and first lady. (This was after a Fox News anchor applied the description “terrorist fist jab” to the couple’s friendly fist bump.)
Even now, six years into the Obama presidency, race remains a sensitive, incendiary issue not only in Ferguson, Mo., but also just about everywhere except ShondaLand, as her production company is called.
In that multicultural world, there are many African-Americans at the top of every profession. But even when her heroine is the only nonwhite person in the room, it is the last thing she or anyone around her notices or cares about.
And what is most admirable about Ms. Rhimes’s achievement is that in a business that is still run by note-giving, nit-picking, compromise-seeking network executives, her work is mercifully free of uplifting role models, parables and moral teachings.
In “How to Get Away With Murder,” Annalise is even worse: She terrifies law students and cheats on her husband. (She also betrays her lover.)
Ms. Rhimes started small with Bailey, a secondary character, not a star; moved on to the charismatic best friend Dr. Naomi Bennett on “Private Practice,” now canceled; and then went big with Olivia. Now she is shooting the moon with Annalise.
And Ms. Rhimes is operating on her own plane, far removed from an industry that is hypersensitive to any hint of insensitivity. There are obviously many more black women on network television now, but most still are worthy sidekicks, be it the young and lovely police detective played by Nicole Beharie on “Sleepy Hollow” or the rollicking, sarcastic road-trip companion Sherri Shepherd played on “How I Met Your Mother.”
C. C. H. Pounder, who played an aboveboard detective on “The Shield,” has a less-imposing gig on a new CBS spinoff, “NCIS: New Orleans.” Now she plays a warmhearted, slightly kooky medical examiner. If Shonda Rhimes were in charge of that show, Ms. Pounder would be the star, not Scott Bakula, and she would wear ivory and cream designer suits to crime scenes in the bayou, reign as queen of her krewe at the Mardi Gras ball and also advise the governor’s re-election campaign.
As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry, who played an astronaut on the summer mini-series “Extant.”
Ms. Davis is perhaps best known for her role in “The Help” as a stoic maid in the segregated South, a role for which she was nominated for a best actress Oscar. As it turned out, it was her “Help” co-star Octavia Spencer, playing the sassy back talker, who won an Oscar (for supporting actress).
Maybe it’s karma, or just coincidence with a sense of humor, but some of the more memorable actresses in that movie (its star Emma Stone, who played a young writer championing civil rights, is not one of them) are now all on network television, only this time, the help is on top.
Allison Janney, an imperious employer in the film, now plays an ex-addict and the matriarch of three generations of poor single mothers on a CBS comedy, “Mom.”
Ms. Spencer is one of the stars of a new Fox series, “Red Band Society,” albeit in a more predictable, pre-Rhimesian role: a bossy, sharp-tongued hospital nurse who is a softy at heart.
Ms. Davis’s character, on the other hand, is the lead, a tenured professor who also has her own law firm: She is as highhanded as John Houseman’s character in the 1970s movie “The Paper Chase,” and as craftily enigmatic as the lawyer Glenn Close played on “Damages.”
The premiere episode is a cleverly constructed hoot: A group of Keating’s top first-year students compete fiendishly to win internships in her law office, then find themselves using her classroom lessons to fiendishly cover up a death. It’s a sexy murder mystery not unlike Donna Tartt’s first novel, “The Secret History,” not a nighttime soap. Ms. Rhimes is the show’s marquee muse, but the writer is a “Grey’s Anatomy” alumnus, Peter Nowalk. The pilot episode of “How to Get Away With Murder” is promisingly slick and suspenseful, without all the histrionic, staccato speechifying that Ms. Rhimes favors on “Scandal.”
“Scandal,” which is entering its fourth season, is more Aaron Spelling than Aaron Sorkin, though even “Dynasty” at its campiest didn’t have quite as many florid fights and ludicrous conspiracies. But Ms. Rhimes’s hit show has blown up the landscape a little the way “Mad Men” did when it began on AMC in 2007, including inspiring copycat fashion. The retro ’60s clothes of “Mad Men” spawned a line of clothing at Banana Republic, and now the Limited is introducing its “Scandal” collection. The ads describe it as “Fearless fashion for ladies who lead.”
The show that inspires imitators has also shamed holdouts.
Last season, when “Saturday Night Live” was under attack for not having a black woman in the cast, and Kenan Thompson, who has impersonated Maya Angelou, Whoopi Goldberg and Star Jones, refused to don another dress, it was Kerry Washington who came to the show’s rescue with an Olivia Pope-ish image makeover.
As a guest host, Ms. Washington was very funny in a number of skits designed by “S.N.L.” to mock and defuse the issue without stirring further offense. Soon after, the show hired Sasheer Zamata, its first black woman since Maya Rudolph left the show in 2007. The show suddenly seems to be on a diversity jag: On the season premiere this month, another black comedian, the newcomer Michael Che, will make his debut as an anchor of “Weekend Update.”
Ms. Rhimes is a romance writer who understands the need for more spice than sugar; 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.
They have innate dignity, not the cautious facade of propriety that Wanda Sykes mocks in routines about her mother’s not allowing her children to dance in front of white people. Ms. Sykes played the wisecracking sidekick on “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and reined in her more outré material for a short-lived sitcom on Fox, “Wanda at Large.” In her stand-up act, she spoke knowingly about the minefield awaiting Mrs. Obama after the first inauguration.
“Who is the real Michelle Obama? When will we see the real Michelle Obama?” she intoned, parodying news commentators. “You know what they’re saying: When are we going to see this?” she said as she burst into an animated pantomime of every angry-black-woman gesture, frown and eye roll.
Nobody thinks Shonda Rhimes is holding back and nobody is asking to see the real Shonda Rhimes. She’s all over the place.