NY Times, Check Your Stereotypes at the Door When Discussing Shonda Rhimes’ Work

shonda rhimes - ny times

Aside from how asinine the term “angry black woman” has become, it couldn’t possibly describe the brilliance and dimension that Rhimes has brought to prime-time network television.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

This article was published at The Root on September 19, 2014.

In an attempt to shed light on Shonda Rhimes’ newest show that she’s executive-producing, How to Get Away With Murder (premiering Thursday night), New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley kicked off her piece with a quip that sent the Internet into a frenzy:

“When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”

We’ll discuss the use of that pesky stereotype further down the line, but first things first: Rhimes, in response to the New York Times piece, thought to make it clear to Stanley that she didn’t create the show.

But let’s get into the meat of Stanley’s argument, which I thought was a well-intentioned but weak analysis of Rhimes’ work.

Stanley cherry-picked three black female characters from Rhimes’ shows—Miranda Bailey (played by Chandra Wilson) from Grey’s Anatomy, Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) from Scandal and Annalise Keating (played by Viola Davis) from How to Get Away With Murder—and used them to make the argument that Rhimes was making good on some personal goal to push “angry black women” to the forefront of television, but not before making them a bit more complex and layered.

Stanley opined that Rhimes was presumably fed up with the cookie-cutter, pristine image of Clair Huxtable from the early 1990s—you know, the kind of black women whom white people wished for blacks. Black women who are morally upstanding at all times and are eternally compassionate and forgiving human beings. Rhimes was also presumably tired of seeing the neck-rolling, finger-waving, not-taking-any-mess black women from sitcoms. With Bailey, Pope and now Keating, Rhimes apparently is living out her creative dreams of giving black women more of a realistic edge on TV.

“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,” Stanley wrote.

Ehh–not exactly. Yes, Rhimes creates multidimensional characters. It’s one of her greatest contributions to network television. But nary a one of those characters’ race comes up all that much in their storylines.

Contrary to popular belief, Rhimes’ shows are still predominantly white. Grey’s Anatomy has one of the most diverse casts on network television, but Miranda Bailey is in a supporting role. And aside from how prominent Kerry Washington is on Scandal, that cast also is predominantly white (yet still diverse in a lot of other ways). Last, How to Get Away With Murder also features an African-American woman in the lead with Viola Davis, but early previews show us that it will also feature a diverse ensemble of wide-eyed law students, crafty attorneys, prosecutors, defendants and judges who all make up our criminal-justice system.

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Dissecting the Chocolate-y Cover of Vanity Fair’s 2014 Hollywood Issue

Vanity Fair's 2014 Hollywood Issue

Vanity Fair’s 2014 Hollywood Issue

A quick analysis about who’s included, and why. Plus, why Kerry Washington and Lupita Nyong’o could be headed for Vogue’s cover.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

This article was published at The Root on February 4, 2014.

The cover of Vanity Fair’s 2014 Hollywood Issue is just oozing chocolate goodness: Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan and Naomie Harris—just to name a few. Below is an impromptu interview, in the form of a G-chat conversation, with Elizabeth Ozemebhoya, a former staffer at a Los Angeles entertainment agency. She waxes about who’s included, and why, and drops a few gems about the politics behind these sorts of editorial selections, and placements. She also tells us why she hopes Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, gives Kerry Washington her just due already.

The Root: look at all that brown sugar

Elizabeth Ozemebhoya: yeah……but awfully confused by the inclusion of Clooney and Julia, which I suspect was to bolster magazine sales

TR: do you have any solid arguments as to why they should have not been included? I mean, wasn’t Julia in that movie that got all those nominations? although I must admit that I am confused by Clooney. OH………….wait! [He was in] Gravity.

EO: Yes, but usually, Vanity has up-and-comers on the cover of this edition

TR: hmmmm

EO: But I guess this year they focused on great performances. But I still suspect they put Julia and Clooney on there for sales. Because let’s be real, Lupita should’ve been on Idris’ lap, and not the middle cover

TR: Chile I should’ve been on Idris’ lap

EO: This is what I mean, they could give Lupita her big moment, like Anna [Wintour] could introduce her to the world with a Vogue cover

TR: true

EO: and say “Hear ye B**CHES. This is Lupita. And so it was written, and so it will be good.”

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Mrs. Obama and Kerry Washington Push for the Arts

Screenshot (TheRoot.com)

Screenshot (TheRoot.com)

(The Root) — Students from the Savoy Elementary School in Washington, D.C., crooned, somersaulted, Lindy Hopped and re-enacted scenes from the 1970s film Grease on Friday as a way to flex their school’s new muscles in arts education. They performed in the gym to an audience of their peers and two distinguished ladies cheering in the front row: first lady Michelle Obama and actress Kerry Washington.

The showcase demonstrated the school’s involvement in Turnaround: Arts, a new initiative to beef up — and in some cases introduce — arts programs to eight low-performing public schools across the nation. The public and private committees that are funding this endeavor hope that student exposure to dance, music, drama and visual-arts classes will boost academic achievement.

Kerry Washington is a celebrity ambassador to the Savoy school — D.C.’s Turnaround school — which, she told reporters during a brief press conference after the performance, is quite fitting because she is known for “fixing” crises in the nation’s capital as Olivia Pope in the hit ABC series Scandal. The actress said that chronically underperforming schools need fixing, too, and she is convinced that arts programming should be included in reform strategies that attempt to do so. Other celebrities that serve as program ambassadors to Turnaround schools include Alfre Woodard, Sarah Jessica Parker and Forest Whitaker.

Never one to shy away from physical activity, Michelle Obama demonstrated her commitment to the program when she extended her arms and lifted her legs alongside prekindergarten students who giggled at the sight of the first lady participating in their dance moves. In her brief address to the students, Mrs. Obama, who is the honorary chairwoman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities — the federal committee that spearheads Turnaround, and of which Washington is one of several celebrity members — slightly retooled her education stump speech and gave a hat tip to the school’s use of arts education as a way to help students perform at higher levels.

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