Tuesday, February 17, 2015


I am all things Empire, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, and Being Mary Jane. And recently someone asked me why I’m so obsessed with television’s new hit shows.

I’ve read the pundits who cry foul, outraged at the perceived stereotypical representations of these black women. There has been the usual outrage and admonishments, some even boycotting the productions to prove their point. And although I can relate and take some of those comments to heart, I am still an avid fan and supporter of all four shows.

Why? Because I know that Cookie Lyon does not represent every black woman in America. Neither does Olivia Pope or Mary Jane Paul or Annalise Keating. But these characters and the black women who portray them do represent facets of the African-American culture and the diversity of our spirits. But most importantly they represent women who have rarely been showcased on mainstream television. They are black females in varying forms of regalia. They are characters who cross the spectrum of intelligence, socio-economic status and who deride the previous stereotypes of black women who were once portrayed as asexual mammies. They are formidable characters who have people sitting up and taking notice and engaging in conversations about how we want to be defined, if it is necessary to define us at all.

I support these shows because suddenly black actors are being gainfully employed. Black writers are being given a voice, their works playing out for mainstream America to see and read. We have a presence where just mere months ago there was none, the complaints then being that there were no black women on our screens to even think about critiquing or criticizing. And they come with stories that actually bear emotional weight and resonate of a human experience.

Much like black romance, black female characters are rarely seen as credible. With books, black romance novels are relegated to those three shelves in the back of the book stores because it’s assumed that no one is interested in reading about black love, if our audiences can read at all. And if we don’t get read then why bother to publish us in mass numbers? Readers and writers of black stories would whole-heartedly disagree and argue that putting us in the front of the store, on more than one shelf, would quickly prove those assumptions wrong.

So I support these shows because I know that to not do so will quickly bring us back to television where black women don’t exist, the anomaly only talked about. Where stories about black women and their experiences aren’t being told. When seeing characters who look like me and my black sisters is a rarity and not a norm. If people aren’t watching then the assumption will be the same as that of black romance novels so why should television executives bother. It’s not perfect, but then nothing ever is. And there will always be someone with more complaints than praise. You just can’t make everyone happy.

And the talent! How can you not acknowledge the talent that Taraji P. Henson, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union, and Viola Davis are bringing to the table? We’re getting characters who have dimension! They’re richly layered and are being played with professional nuances that are without doubt, award-worthy. These women are playing these roles, giving us the good and the bad of themselves to make us either love or hate the women they are portraying. They are invoking emotion that has the twitter-sphere blazing and critics castigating. They are not going unnoticed and I think that’s a very good thing.

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