Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Shonda Rhimes and the Mainstream Media's Problem with Propelling Black People

Saturday, September 20th was the 30th anniversary of the US premiere of “The Cosby Show.” The tv guide was filled with Cosby Show marathons all weekend long and even after seeing every single episode of this show multiple times, I like to tune in when I can. On Saturday afternoon I happened to catch an episode that I’m guessing was probably season 4 or season 5, putting us in 1988 or 1989. The episode begins with Cliff in the kitchen and Rudy coming down stairs listening to music on her walkman while singing along. Word for word Rudy is repeating the lyrics – “I want you to do it to me all night long.” Immediately Cliff’s ears peak up in a diplomatic WTF manner. He calmly walks over to Rudy and removes the earphones from her ears and proceeds with a father/daughter Q&A session.

(the dialogue based on my memory)

Cliff to Rudy --  “what is it?”
Rudy to Cliff --  “you know what it is – kissing and holding hands.”
Cliff to Rudy -- “what else is it?”
Rudy to Cliff  -- “what else is it?”
Cliff to Rudy -- “IT is homework, lots of homework.”

Rudy walks off singing about doing homework all night long :)

Later in the episode we see another moment of conflict between parents and child, when Vanessa gives an unexpected performance....

Cliff and Claire's reaction and subsequent actions are the definition of good parenting to a young impressionable daughter. Ironically, in 1989 young women struggled with self-respect and sexual objectification. Taking it even deeper, we can view this episode as a reflection of how young black women viewed themselves in America. Lack of diverse visuals on television and in print, left young black women very impressionable and almost forced to accept what was put before them. That's where Vanessa and her friends were. They saw what was happening in music of that time and thought they needed to mimic that to garner the success they were seeking.

Interestingly the writers of this episode knew this and understood the internal struggle and took on the responsibility of giving young black women a teachable moment. The writers could have easily absolve themselves of responsibility here and let Vanessa and the girls move forward with their look and routine, thinking it was okay and acceptable. However, they were smarter than that. They knew that young black women looked to this show and this was a moment to give them something symbolic worth carrying with them for the rest of their lives.

This is what "The Cosby Show" did for eight seasons. Teachable moment after teachable moment, the show gave Americans (of all races) a rare view of what a black family looked like. Until "The Cosby Show" the media wanted everyone to believe that a family like this DID NOT EXIST! Even today you hear the media try to spin the show and its relevance into some anomaly. Like we already showed you that this is what REALLY exists, but you still want to propagate bullshit. Okay! Why did they do this, because it pisses the media off when Black people are portrayed positively for a mainstream audience.

On January 21, 1988, John J. O'Connor of the New York Times wrote the following:

"Still, having watched ''The Cosby Show'' for the past several weeks, it is clear that the series is sagging noticeably. The show was never a trailblazer in the mode of, say, ''All in the Family'' or ''Hill Street Blues.'' Actually, it is rather surprising how far it has gone on the strength of low-keyed charm and an attractive cast. From the beginning, the source of its appeal has been rooted in the personality of Mr. Cosby himself. Many of the scripts were simply expansions of autobiographical stories from his comedy act. These days, though, there are signs that Mr. Cosby may indeed be spreading himself too thin. The scripts are increasingly reverting to little more than insubstantial anecdotes and overly cute character turns."

What the Fuck Ever John!

See Bill Cosby was subjected to negative reviews regularly during the Cosby Show years. No matter how well the show did, there were always people like John making egregious claims (their so-called opinions) about the show and passing it off as fact. Despite the ignorance, Mr. Cosby's vision was so much bigger than any of us could have understood in 1984. He persevered through and used "The Cosby Show" to break barriers, paving the way for characters like Vivian Banks, Elias Martinez, Miranda Bailey and Olivia Pope.

30-Years Later.....

On September 21, 2014, Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times wrote the following:

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

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.” 

On April 12, 2012, Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times wrote the following:

The new HBO series “Girls” slips in a wry acknowledgement of “Sex and the City,” and that tribute — a character describes herself as a Carrie with a touch of Samantha — is gracious but not entirely necessary.

Lena Dunham’s much anticipated comedy about four single women in New York, which starts on Sunday night, is worth all the fuss, even though it invites comparisons to Carrie Bradshaw and friends, and even though it incites a lot of dreary debate about the demise of feminism. 

Within the last month three African-American women have made some serious strides in our country - Michelle Roberts was named Executive Director (highest position in the organization) of the National Basketball Players Association; Paulette Brown was elected to lead the American Bar Association; Serena Williams won her 18th career grand slam to tie Chris Evert. Yet, these women got very little media attention. The little attention they did receive was plagued with discussions surrounding past setbacks and perceived lack of experience. 

Why can't a black woman in this country be properly lauded for her accomplishments and efforts?

Why did Alessandra Stanley deliver such a starkly different review to Shonda Rhimes than she did to Lena Dunham, or any of the other show's she ever reviewed where a black woman was not the dominate force?

To be completely honest with you, I'm so pissed at this New York Times piece that I can't properly put my thoughts together. However, Patricia Washington wrote into the New York Times and was able to put into words what most of us felt when we read this article, but couldn't properly put into words....

"I am deeply offended by the story written by Alessandra Stanley about Shonda Rhimes being an angry black woman. At first, I tried to give Ms. Stanley the benefit of the doubt and thought that she was attempting to be irreverent. Then I realized that she was being racist, ignorant, and arrogant. It is interesting that I have never seen any of Ms. Stanley’s stories refer to any white producers of TV or film programs in racist, stereotypical terms. As awful as the story is, she got her facts wrong because Shonda Rhimes is not the executive producer of the new show, “How To Get Away With Murder.”

I am a black woman and a lawyer. I have worked very hard to achieve in my profession and earn respect. I live in a very nice suburban community in Maryland. And yet, none of that makes one bit of difference because a New York Times writer can make whatever offhanded, racist opinions about a successful TV producer who is a black woman she cares to make, and because she has the protection of The New York Times behind her, can publish it. Because Ms. Stanley is a New York Times writer, her story has reached a national audience. Why is Ms. Stanley allowed to characterize Ms. Rhimes as she did and get away it? Why is she allowed to characterize Viola Davis as she did in her story and get away with it?

Ms. Stanley’s story was a backhand to me and it hurts. For the first time, I am considering cancelling my New York Times subscription because this story is much more than disagreeing with the writer’s opinion. This story denigrated every black woman in America, beginning with Shonda Rhimes, that dares to strive to make a respectable life for herself. No matter what we do, as far as Ms. Stanley is concerned, we will always be angry and have potent libidos as we have been perceived from slavery, to Jim Crow, and sadly in September 2014, the 21st century.

Please remove Ms. Stanley from the New York Times. None of us who read your paper should ever be subjected to this.

The Public Editor of the New York Times acknowledged the piece that Ms. Stanley wrote and admits that it was wrong and will be looked into. I don't know what that means. Probably nothing. I'm sure Alessandra Stanley will continue to use the New York Times to compensate for her inadequacies and insecurities as a woman through hateful and derogatory speech. I hope she seeks the help that she needs. In the meantime, as a young black woman successful in my own right, I am proud of Shonda Rhimes and the work she has done to change the face of television. One day the world will learn to accept us as the gems we are and fully embrace us. Until that day comes may we all have a little Shonda Rhimes in us and continue to kick down doors. 

Gladiators - we are back in business this Thursday at 9pm, followed by "How to Get Away with Murder" at 10pm on ABC. 
Share your thoughts on the times piece.......

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