Wow, this is going to be hard…
Roughly two years ago, I wrote a reaction to a piece I read about the ways that black women were being portrayed in media and how I was struggling with the roles of the leading ladies in two of Shonda Rhimes’ series, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder. You can read that piece here.
Honestly, I am still uncomfortable with much of what I see in those and similar characters on television, but it’s interesting the perspective time can give you when you are a writer and you go back to read your old stuff. I realized something recently that was awake up call.
The discomfort I feel is a good thing.
I’ve returned to watching HTGAWM again though I still can’t get back to Scandal yet. (Baby steps) What I’ve found is that seeing the tarnish on these professional women is important for the normalizing of black women for other people. That’s the part that was giving me all kinds of indigestion before. I wanted the world to see a successful black, female lawyer, but I didn’t want them to see that she had self esteem issues. I wanted the world to see a black, female powerbroker in DC, but I didn’t want them to see her steadily falling for and running after a married man.
I was craving caricatures and didn’t even realize it. I wanted to see my black Wonder Women devoid of flaws, dammit!
But that’s not who these characters are nor who they were meant to be.
Fast forward to my picking up a copy of the Year of Yes and how it forced me not only to look back at that old reaction piece I wrote, but also how it helped me better understand what Shonda (Yes, I just put us on a first name basis) really set out to do when she created these two parts of Shondaland.
She is working to normalize seeing black women in leading roles, yes.
But mostly she is trying to get the stories out of her head and in front of an audience. She’s a storyteller and a damn good one at that.
I’m just working my way into page 243, but I had to pause and put on my big girl panties to admit that my departure from Shondaland two years ago may have been premature. I really wish that I had had the opportunity to read Year of Yes before I watched Scandal for the first time. I think it might have caused me to view the show differently. In all, I’m glad I removed myself for a time so that I could come back and view the work from a different perspective. I just have to take these works one at a time so I can appreciate them fully.
Marta C. Youngblood
p.s. Year of Yes is a great read for a lot of other reasons also so do take that time for yourself. It’s not just for women, y’all.