If you love talking about television like I love talking about television, you probably have heard the furor around The New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley’s profile of TV megaproducer Shonda Rhimes that was published online late last week. In short, the article, which was a backhanded way of promoting the new ShondaLand series “How To Get Away With Murder,” became a backhanded slap at all black women. It rightfully made black women – and pretty much any rational thinking person – very angry. Why?
Well, this was the lede:
When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”It didn’t get much better from there. She discusses how Rhimes likes to showcase “powerful, intimidating black woman” characters. And how her new series star Viola Davis is “less classically beautiful” than other stars. She explains that ultimately Shonda took Viola’s character (and her other black female characters) and “recast it in her own image.” Though, small problem, Shonda isn’t even the creator or writer of “How to Get Away With Murder.” Ooof.
Nothing like reducing an incredibly talented and prolific television creator and producer to that ugly, old stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman.”
Naturally, there was a lot of deserved outrage about this. Like here. And here. Also here.
So much furor was caused that the NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan waded into the fray and took her own rightful slap at Alessandra’s piece saying “it delivered that message in a condescending way that was – at best – astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch.”
Not to be outdone, Alessandra responded back by proving her tone-deaf, out of touchness by saying in the same post:
“….I so often write arch, provocative ledes that are then undercut or mitigated by the paragraphs that follow.”Guys! It’s not that she is racist. It’s that WE DIDN’T GET HER ARCHNESS. Duh!
You might think that this is a lot of meta, inside baseball talk about the media. But what it really is is a serious discussion about race and television. And it’s a pointed look at how our media institutions value an entire institution. Because it seems to me that in order to be even a somewhat passable television critic, one must first actually like television. You don’t have to love everything on television, clearly. Because, holy shit, is there a lot of crap.
But you do need to, as a medium, appreciate and respect its potential and power. At very least, you need to actually watch it. But The New York Times, our paper of record, seems to hate television. Why else would it have gainfully employed arguably America’s Worst TV Critic since 2003.
This isn’t just one terrible article and tone-deaf mistake from a TV critic. Everyone makes mistakes. This is a TV critic who has proven for over a decade she is terrible and tone deaf. At this point, her mistakes are legend.
Who can forget that hit comedy “All About Raymond,” right? And who doesn’t fondly remember that segment she wrote about that DID NOT EVEN AIR on the day of Ann Curry’s departure from “Today,” eh? And I sure know I love Stephen Colbert and his “trustiness,” don’t you? (Yes, more irony, the women whose writing defines “truthiness” didn’t even get that right.)
When about revered newsman Walter Cronkite died her obituary for him contained not one, not two, not three but SEVEN FUCKING ERRORS. That’s the way it isn’t, in Alessandra’s world.
Read Gawker’s continuing archives on her terribleness for a good laugh/cry depending on how you’re feeling.
Hell, Margaret Sullivan isn’t even the first NYT Public Editor to take her to task. Two Public Editors ago, then ombudsman Clark Hoyt called her “a television critic with a history of errors” when writing about the Cronkite debacle.
But guess what, SHE IS STILL EMPLOYED.
I don’t watch any of Shonda Rhimes’ shows regularly anymore. But it’s not for lack of quality (it has more to do with time and ability to follow soapy storylines in a timely fashion). Yet I admire the hell out of her for bringing such rich casts and stories to out televisions. She has created wonderful roles and opportunities for people of color and created meaningful and thought-provoking LGBT storylines.
I was lucky enough to briefly interview Shonda at the GLAAD Awards a couple years ago and what I noticed about her in our very short time together wasn’t anything even close to anger. It never even crossed my mind. What I did notice was how smart she was and how, as an interviewer, my main goal was to keep up and not sound stupid.
The kicker of Sullivan’s post on the matter is perhaps the most telling of all:
“The Times has a number of high-ranked editors and prominent writers who are people of color, but it’s troubling that among 20 critics, not one is black and only one is a person of color.”And that, my friends, is exactly why the world is better place thanks to ShondaLand. This is no country for Angry Black Women stereotypes. We need more Shondas and less Alessandra’s in the world to make it a stronger, smarter, more inclusive place. I have no idea how this woman gets away with being the America’s Worst TV Critic. But let it be known, we are not listening anymore.
p.s For some lovely uplift, please check out our friend Lesley’s post at The Hollywood Reporter where she asked 30 of Shonda’s stars to describe her in three words. Hint: None of the words are “Angry Black Woman.”
p.p.s. I took that photo of Shonda on the 2012 GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco. Me. But the excellent side eye. Yeah, that’s all Shonda.