How To Get Away With a Black Female Protagonist

Last night, ABC aired the much anticipated return of Scandal starring the lovely Kerry Washington, then debuted new series How to Get Away With Murder, starring the phenomenal Viola Davis. Despite the social media induced competition between the two protagonists, Pope and Keating are not mutually exclusive characters. Rather, both are exclusive mutually in the expansion of portrayal of the black female protagonist. While competition between the two leading protagonists is inappropriate, the comparison between the two series is inevitable, as both demonstrate identical structural components.

The Formula

I. Black Women in Law
Both shows feature black women as students of law turned law professionals who are the highly paid “clean up crew” for some high society’s crimes.

II. Lust versus Love (Love Triangle)
Believed to depict the love life dynamic of the strong and successful black woman, both shows feature steamy love triangles. However, this love versus lust depiction (and its implementation on VERY married pawns) maintains the traditional controlling image of black woman as victims to their sexuality.

III. The Sensation of the Swirl
It seems that black love or scenes between two black people without a white person present ( physically or through the bounds of marriage), is reserved for BET. The intertwining of black female protagonists with white men, implies that black intimacy is only sexy, or mainstream worthy when a white person is involved.

IV. Entourage
Both powerful women come with an entourage that supplements their skill and showcases their ability to delegate.

In contrast to the white wearing Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating wears dark colors, comparible to the suggested darkness of her deeds. Keating’s edge is perhaps hinted at through the glare that she wears throughout most of the show. While Pope and Keating both engage in extramarital affairs, Keating is married, whereas Pope has invaded another couple’s marriage. Where Olivia Pope is weak, Annalise Keating is strong, depicting Keating as only vulnerable when it comes to her job, specifically losing. Between Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating, black women have an ego and alter ego, a black and a white wearing heroine, who’s presence suggests that we can be our own binary opposites,with both sides consisting of a compelling degree of greatness.

Thus while there is certainly room for Pope and Keating, let us contemplate how society “gets away with”a black female protagonist. The presence of both protagonists appears revolutionary, yet the similarities between the character compositor of both black female protagonists appears rehearsed. Suggesting that to get away with a black female protagonist is proper execution of a perfected formula.

Pair a black woman with the law and a white man, and we have a hit show. Both women are lawyers, but are seen “bending” the law. They are both in love with white men, yet both relationships are laced with betrayal. Interestingly, both women are also the black faces for an otherwise white show. True Scandal has Guillermo Diaz(Huck), and Joe Morton(Rowan Pope) and How to Get Away With Murder has Alfred Enoch(Wes Gibbons) and Aja Naomi King (Michaela) but both shows still have a majority of white actors and actresses, despite being tied to a black screenwriter and marketed to a black audience.

To get away with a black female protagonists is to capitalize on the illusion, the illusion of leading a parade that we were merely invited to. Thus, getting away with a black female protagonist is to trick an audience (of predominately black women) into believing that it is in fact a black show. Whereas, in fact all the blacks kids are once again sitting together in the cafeteria, except we’re in our living rooms-apart yet together, in our defeat disguised as victory yet again.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Fajr Muhammad says:

    Love how you distilled the ruse that is both of these shows. I was a reluctant Scandal watcher and have since warmed up. It is entertaining television but definitely hides behind classic tropes of interracial relationships and the “strong” black woman who has it together.

    Watching HTGAWM, something didn’t sit well me with and when her husband came out (his race notwithstanding) I was a bit disappointed that she had to stoop to such levels to win. White female characters have played these parts for ages, and I relish in black actors having multi-faceted roles, but it does appear to be 2 sides of the same coin.

    1. C.Saunders says:

      Thank you for your feedback and for your extremely well worded response!

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