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The Shonda Rhimes Revolution: Finishing What ‘The Sopranos’ Started

Last month, Alessandra Stanley, the lead TV critic of the New York Times, referred to Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black woman,” and applied the same label to the protagonists of her dramas Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, and (really stretching the point) Grey’s Anatomy, which is mostly about a sad-eyed white woman. Stanley was rightly excoriated — her take, as the Times’s own public editor pointed out, was “astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch,” not to mention seriously dense about the history of women of color on network TV. Rhimes allowed herself a rare moment of public annoyance, probably in part because getting angry about unjustly being labeled angry is the definition of a Catch-22 — and smart, perceptive TV critics lined up to refute Stanley’s analysis point by point.

We’re now four weeks into the new TV season, and here’s what we know:

  1. How to Get Away With Murder is the biggest new hit among 18- to 49-year-olds on any network.
  2. Although it is created by a white man, it is, to judge from its first three episodes, a complete manifestation, in editing, pacing, tone, style, and content, of the aesthetic of its black female executive producer.
  3. It is actually about an angry black woman.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as a former overlord of Thursday-night TV once said.

 

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