Shondaland is a diverse land of milk and honey — literally. From Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal to How To Get Away With Murder and back, we’ve seen relationships between Caucasian women and African American men, an Asian American woman and a Caucasian man, an Asian American woman and an African American man, a Latina woman and a White woman, a White man and a White man, a Black woman and a White woman, and so on and so forth. And while we have seen failed unions between Black men and women (and these interracial and homosexual pairs as well), what’s noticeably been missing in these on-screen narratives is an idealistic notion many of us will never let go: Black love.
But is it a necessity that it’s there? Furthermore, is it Rhimes’ responsibility to showcase it simply because she’s a Black female showrunner?
If you asked Corey Alexander Haywood those questions, the answers would be yes. The author recently wrote a pretty harsh critique of Rhimes, calling her “nothing but a white-loving sellout,” adding that
“While other Black writers and producers have toiled at the expense of their own success to erase stereotypes attached to people of color, Rhimes selfishly produces content that elevates white characters above their black counterparts.”
I have to pause Haywood there because Kerry Washington and Viola Davis’ lead characters certainly retain the highest status level on their respective shows and, morally, everyone — white, black, brown, red, or purple — is bankrupt, so I can’t quite get down with that elevation argument. However, I am in agreement when he says Rhimes “is in a profound position to create positive images of black families on her shows to combat the notion that people of color aren’t capable of sustaining healthy, lasting partnerships.” The thing is, it’s not entirely fair to put that responsibility wholly on her shoulders.
I won’t deny that it’s crossed my mind a time or two that Rhimes might not be here for the brothers. But when I take in the entire spectrum of her work, I honestly think her focus is more on feminism than familial values and inclusion rather than exclusion for any personal reason or monetary gain.
Let’s not act like any of the interracial or homosexual couples we see in Shondaland are the epitome of stable relationships — everybody’s got some mess and its more than obvious Rhimes likes serving that up to us in family-sized dishes. What I gather is Rhimes is much more interested in depicting situations that reflect the times — albeit on an exaggerated level — than present a Utopian view of them, or better yet try to change anyone’s perception, as say Bill Cosby set out to do back in the day with The Cosby Show. Still, one could argue that when Rhimes explained why there’s so many gay couples on her shows by saying “I believe everyone should get to see themselves reflected on TV,” she forgot happily married Black men and women exist too. But then again, Chandra Wilson does have a Black husband on Grey’s.
Nevertheless, you can also tell particularly from the promo for this season of TGIT that relationships, in their many shapes, forms, and colors, are just the backdrop to the narrative of the smart, domineering, sexually liberated (and conniving) woman. It’s on that platform, along with that of diversity, that Rhimes has chosen to hinge her work and that, my friends, is her choice and right as creator, head writer, executive producer, and more.
Sometimes Rhimes gets the Tyler Perry shaft because, with all of their power and resources, we expect them, as the few among us who make it into the spaces we can’t, to then represent for all of us, but that’s just not reasonable –or fair. If Rhimes claimed she was out here trying to show love in new lights and all of that romanticized hype then we could really take her to task on this. But right now, it’s her show(s), her rules, and her reality. Plus she’s not exactly doing the homosexual or interracial dating communities any favors in the sordid tales we see of their relationships on her series so I don’t particularly feel any type of way about not seeing two Black people on screen cheating on one another, plotting the other’s death, or passing along a life-threatening disease just to say they’re there. While I certainly would love to see two attractive, successful, Black men and women thrive in Shondaland, on this claim Rhimes has purposely left out those characters to appease white audiences, I’m inclined to disagree.
What do you think? Does Shonda Rhimes have a responsibility to show Black love on her TV shows?