When I say the words: “bland white woman”, I’m quite sure many things pop into your mind.
What If I told you the most bland, white, fictional female character ever written on television was created by a black
The mayonasian in question is Meredith Grey, from the award-winning hospital sitcom “Grey’s Anatomy”. Having been on television for 10+ seasons, it would appear that focusing a show around an incredibly mediocre white woman appears to pay dividends, no?Then I sat and thought about why it even exists. (Heavy speculative conspiracy in 5…4….3…2…)
The creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes, is a black woman.
Crumples up paper and tries again
Shonda Rhimes is a beautiful, intelligent, talented black woman who manipulated the viewing public the best way she knew how..Giving them what they wanted– at first. What they wanted was apparently an incredibly snooze-inducing white female protagonist, aimed at relating to a particularly large demographic of similarly snooze inducing white women.
Jackpot. Rhimes also owns and runs Shondaland, her own production company, keeping her all of her shit in-house. I’m sure you’re starting to see where I’m going with this. Her next major show, “Scandal”, featured Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a political drama in which she was pretty much a boss bish, (and sleeping with the President). This is what I call an incremental move, as it still works within the confines of the particular demographic she was shooting for.
Many have chided Rhimes for Washington’s characterization, and of course the inevitable elephant in the room of being a “white man’s bish”, but Scandal had purpose. One does not simply go straight for the jugular when it comes to the white viewing audience.
Despite whatever misgivings you may have about Olivia Pope, the story lines, and racial implications, Kerry was still extremely suitable for television, as colorism, and acceptability (along with respectability) politics have never NOT been in full effect. In this case I would call it the “Halle Berry effect”, which illustrates my point later in this piece.
It hasn’t been relevant to mention until now, but this is what Shonda Rhimes looks like:
“What does that have to do with anything?” you might be asking yourself.
Everything, as it makes her next move a legendary one. As Scandal was winding down/decreasing in popularity, there were rumblings across rumor mill outlets and social media that Shondaland was putting a new show into production. One with similar roots with political and or law intrigue. The show was to be called “How To Get Away With Murder”, with actress Viola Davis taking the lead role.
Up until this point, Shonda had been playing a very safe game. Ordinary white woman, light skinned black protagonist (aka acceptable). In case you’ve been under a rock, here is what Viola Davis looks like:
Remember what I said about the “Halle Berry” effect? Yeah. Shonda threw that shit out of the window. In an industry that imposes its will at every turn, and regularly keeps anyone that fails a paper bag test out of defining roles, Viola Davis broke all of the rules. She was a dark- skinned, full figured black woman, with all of our wonderful features. The ANTI-demographic pleaser.
My wife insists that Shonda used her power, having produced all of her own shows to make the move. ABC simply couldn’t say no to the person who helped them own prime time television, and best believe if it was ever possible, another network would give her everything she asked for and then some.
The decision to put Viola onto TV was a landmark moment in my life, as it forced me to look back and attempt to count how many dark skinned woman I’d ever seen leading a show, hell, even BEING on a show, much less one on a MAJOR network that wasn’t cable. Cable is where they shove all the negroes. Which is why a wonderful show like “Claws” (starring Niecy Nash) is on TNT.
Ms. Rhimes played a long game, and considering that How To Get Away With Murder got renewed for a 4th season, with Viola Davis having recently been the first black woman to EVER win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead actress..
It was a game well played.