I’m Moving Out of Shondaland


It used to be a kind of utopia. A weekly meeting of all my favorite Blackgirls, indulging and over-indulging on wine and takeout, listening to records, talking about life and love, and hollering at the TV as Kerry Washington stunted in a flawless white coat and stomped delicately on the heads of every white man in the White House.

Of course, she didn’t look like us, with her airbrushed skin and bone-straight perm. Of course, she was in love with one white man, or two, depending on the season. Of course she wasn’t an artist, or an activist, or a progressive. But she was a Black woman on prime time television, she was sexy as hell, and she was smarter than you. We were so damn hungry we forgave her. We forgave the overdone love scenes and the corny banter. We forgave the patriotism, the predictability, the strange treatment of Black men. We are so damn hungry.


You call it a Scandal watching party, we called it Blackgirl Summit. Sure, our original purpose was to drool over Olivia Pope, suspend disbelief and ignore real-world pain for an hour, courtesy of fellow Blackgirl Shonda Rhimes. But something happened in my apartment on Thursday nights: we found a sort of healing. The wine flowed and we exhaled. We expressed our appreciation for one another. Conversations dipped in and out of irreverence and deep thoughtfulness around race, art, and gender. We were safe together. We were building community, keeping tabs on each other and ourselves.

Even when we don’t meet every week, watching and discussing Scandal, and most recently, How To Get Away With Murder, with my friends of color has been special. It felt good for us to own something. For a Black woman to be in charge of ABC’s Thursday night lineup. And even when plot lines lagged or made me roll my eyes, I watched in solidarity and support, aware that low ratings could result in a white-washed lineup.

Then came last week’s non-indictment, not as a surprise but as a reminder. Since Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Mike Brown multiple times in August, I’d been bracing myself. Brown’s character (did he steal?! Did he smoke weed?!) was swiftly reported on before any facts about Wilson, the Ferguson PD’s penchant for racial profiling, or why Brown was murdered. The media reminded us that police use force when they feel unsafe—it’s what they do, and it isn’t necessarily punishable. After Trayvon Martin’s killer (who, let’s remember, had no badge of any kind) walked free at the end of a “fair” trial in 2013, this was a reminder that no one has our back. That we aren’t in charge. That permission is given to murder us.

A few days later, rumors surfaced that ABC had paid Wilson $500,000 for an exclusive interview. Let’s assume it’s true: ABC gave Darren Wilson $500,000 and a platform. The value of Darren Wilson’s story, his voice, his thoughts, his opinions, his rosy cheeks. Darren Wilson was paid $500,000, which, coupled with donations he received after the murder, effectively made him a newly-happily-married millionaire fresh from paid vacation.

Darren Wilson’s worth. My worth. Michael Brown’s worth. My body’s worth. Money. Money. Darren Wilson’s side of the story. Blood’s worth.

So, whether the rumors are true or not, I’m boycotting ABC. Hell, maybe television altogether.

If the movements around #BlackoutBlackFriday are any indication, we know that capitalism, racial inequality, oppression, and white supremacy, are all intrinsically connected. The 11% drop in corporate revenue on the heels of Darren Wilson’s dismissal with a pat on the back are a reminder that our voices can certainly be heard through our wallets. To the establishment, I, as a Black woman, am only good for sex, blood and money.

complete-relationship-history-scandal-olivia-fitz.sl.39.scandal-relationship-evolution-ss36I’ll admit this isn’t an easy choice for a TV junkie like me. For a Black woman like me, who flocks to Twitter on Thursday nights to “Yaaaaassss” over Olivia Pope’s outfits, who takes pride in watching Viola Davis outshine her co-stars. ABC never saw it coming. Maybe that’s why they chose to so blatantly support Wilson, with confidence their viewership wouldn’t suffer. Friends asked, what are we supposed to watch, Friends? And hell no, that’s never the answer. Will we watch whiteness? How will we see ourselves? I’m happy to turn to outdated syndications of Living Single. Or we’ll make our own damn shows.

The truth is, Shonda hasn’t been healthy for us for a while. Centuries-old trauma bubbles up every time Olivia shrinks away from her white boyfriends’ touches. Interracial relationships are never discussed on racial terms. We see white men remain in power despite displays of strength and capability from Black women. Healthy, non-secretive sexual relationships between Black adults are rarely shown. Though we’ve been forgiving, supporting Scandal and HTGAWM for their Black woman leadership, the images we consume are often more of the same: Black woman used and abandoned, Black woman remaining strong through trauma as if devoid of emotion, Black woman as body, Black woman for White Man. I tried, but I never really saw myself in Olivia Pope, never wanted to be her friend, never wanted her to represent me. I told myself I was excited for Black women to fill my screen each Thursday night, but they weren’t real Black women so much as tired tropes, oppressive stereotypes, junk food.

Shondaland is about as safe a space for us as America.

“I knew itVIOLA DAVIS, TOM VERICA from the minute I saw you,” says Annalise Keating’s white husband (who we now know to be both a cheater and a murderer) on How To Get Away With Murder. “All you’re good for is rough sex, you disgusting slut.” And as I listened, as I watched his hands around her neck, I felt familiar shame. I internalized the dirty language, its history. I wished I never had to hear such words again. I knew I would hear such words again. How did he know it the minute he saw her, I wondered. What was it about her Ann Taylor dress, her law degree, her wood-paneled office? I wondered but didn’t wonder: I knew. I internalized. I suddenly felt aware of my body. Of the white supremacist gaze. Of white male eyes. Of my perceived worth. It wasn’t a surprise but a reminder.

There is no good left for me in these images. There is pain and and darkness in these images. These Black women weeping. These white men holding our bodies down. The taking. The giving. The never prevailing. There are triggers and reminders. There is not healing. I hope to continue to share Thursday nights with my friends and sisters of color, both on my couch and on Twitter. But let’s talk about real life. Let’s talk about our successes and dreams. Let’s talk about the partners who love us right. Let’s talk about how we are queens and kings. I do not want to fall asleep drunk on wine, achingly aware of my scandalized body. I don’t want to drink to Black women’s submission. I want to toast to the power I know we have. I want to embrace and laugh and be fed hope. The cost of living is too damn high in Shondaland. I ain’t looking back.


Filed under Everything Else, Movies + TV

20 Responses to I’m Moving Out of Shondaland

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  2. JD

    While your article brings up many good points, I couldn’t disagree more. You say you want “hopes and laughs”, and you intended to find that in a prime-time drama? Shonda never said anything insinuating that these are the women you should be looking up to as role models. In what reality are any of us sleeping with the POTUS or trying to get a way with murder?

    You’re so quick to point out negatives in these shows but what about the positive? Michaela is black college student excelling and trying to achieve her way to the top so she can one day own her own firm. Same can be said for Wes. Annalise a black woman actually owns her own law firm and is a college professor. Olivia who despite her relationships is an intelligent black woman who tries to do the best for her friends and tries to excel at her job and go above and beyond for her clients. What about that? Is that success and dreams?

    You written these women off cause of their relationships but perhaps you should look past who they are screwing that week and realize this is not about being oppressed. These shows are for entertainment and whether you choose to make these women your role models is your choice, but to say that these shows are “unhealthy” and try to put down a black woman doing her thing is quite shameful in my opinion. And once again, if you’re looking for hopes and laughs maybe try a comedy in future with dramatic undertones instead of watching a show fueled on drama and hoping for it to give you the world.

    • Shalimar Brown

      I totally agree with in most of the points. But I think you miss Shonda’s trajectory, if you will, to illustrate the oppression of black women and black people intentionally. Shonda and her team present an array of ideologies and realities on Thursday nights. Feminism, racism, and societal reality are all things that are INTENTIONALLY touched on and if you missed that then you simply think that the show is for entertainment. I disagree with this article because Shonda uses a platform, a “scandal” if you will, to draw viewers in using most of society’s lack of consciousness and then she proceeds to pile it all on until you almost drown in the eloquence and reality of some of the things that are being portrayed. You should and the author of this article should evaluate the purpose of certain images and why they are being portrayed. The shows vividly present oppression, but in a fashion of human behavior and not a peachy keen environment where a black woman has it all together, married to a good black man and simultaneously has functional relationships. Not all women have that and different aspects of the human experience have the right to showcased especially when the complexities and fabric of society are so broad.

  3. Wow. This is a very powerful essay and thank you for sharing. I tapped out of Scandal a while ago and while I tried to get into How To Get Away With Murder, I just wasn’t moved by it. I think Kerry Washington and Viola Davis are talented and extremely smart women. I think Viola Davis is absolutely brilliant artist and her brief scene in Doubt is still seared in my brain, seven years later.

    I don’t necessarily think Black women’s pain shouldn’t be addressed and I do think it is important to show the traumas we face every day, and to show that we do cry and can be vulnerable. However, it also becomes problematic when that’s the *only* story that is told. It would be wonderful to see Viola Davis in a romantic comedy (with a Black partner, imagine that!) or as a sci-fi heroine. It would be wonderful to see Kerry Washington in a movie about a woman finding spiritual enlightenment. And so on and so forth. And I do think it is important that we hold people accountable for the scripts they write, the shows they run, and the shows they help produce. And I do hope more people start questioning these images that we see, questioning why we rarely see healthy, sexual partnerships between Black people in the media and address, in-depth, the issues you brought up so eloquently here.

  4. I love this, Morgan. Particularly “We were so damn hungry we forgave her.” and “And as I listened, as I watched his hands around her neck, I felt familiar shame. I internalized the dirty language, its history. I wished I never had to hear such words again. I knew I would hear such words again.”
    That parsing of your shame over the experience of being violated (via a proxy)– as opposed to, say, anger or fear– is whip-smart.
    Might’ve been a small mistake- both the 11% drop and #BlackoutBlackFriday links go to the same HuffPo article.

  5. Cheryl Carol

    Thank you Morgan for your insight. You are dead on. I too signed off on Scandal, Shonda is part of the good old boy network, sadly she continues the negative stereotyping of black women. That’s what power and money is all about. What will she tell her daughters?

  6. Carole

    I gringed in disbelief when her “husband” called her a slut..etc. That would never happen to any of her white female characters on htgawm, greys anatomy, or scandal. NEVER! I am reminded of the words…”I’m the one you ride etc…coming out of jake’s mouth in his dressing down to Olivia during one of their arguments. Me: no shondra didn’t.. Then tried to imagine mcdreamy saying that to Meridith. AGAIN, NEVER. I think ABC and shondraland should be held accountable. Just turning the programs off isn’t enough. It’s us that feel the emotional, psychological, and will this never end pain. And if we don’t INSTITUTE vehicles ( a movement) to publicallly shame her and ABC, as well as educate the viewers about the historically erroneous construction of the black female in the film and TV industry, we fail ourselves and this will never change. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I’m just sick and tired of being sick and tired!” Thank you for bringing me back to reality. Your essay was right on time!

  7. Black Woman

    I recently read “The Making of a Slave” by Willie Lynch, and while I understand your point of view in this article, understand you’re carrying out the behaviors implemented to divide blacks. Please, stop pulling down black people for being unperfect, but celebrate their success. If you feel the need to judge someone because they’re black and you’re holding them responsible for your life please, do it in a way that is uplifting, encouraging and inspiring! Regardless of how imperfect Shonda is as a writer, she put a representation of a black intelligent, beautiful woman in front of mass media to see! I commend her!!! Boycott ABC, I commend you but, don’t tear down a black writer or actress in the process!!!

  8. I understand what you are saying. However, the deeper resonation came when you quoted Sam’s words to Annalise and shared your thoughts about what he said.

    “I knew it from the minute I saw you. All you’re good for is rough sex, you disgusting slut.”

    That outburst shocked me and shooked me and it’s has been ringing in my ears and troubling me. Each time I ask myself if I am reading too much into it, analyzing too much, or being too sensitive. Each time I tell myself that if something troubles me, it is significant and deserves consideration, an explanation, a solution andor a decision.

    While I have no experience with the blackwhite relationship, and never had such words, or anything close to them thrown at me, they stung and stirred up the turbulence that’s been brewing with.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings about it. You helped me pull mine together, understand them, own them, and stand by them.

  9. According to Snopes.com, Wilson was not paid. So, let’s not use that as an excuse to boycott Shonda Rhimes’ shows. If we just want to focus on the troubles of the world (there are so many), then we can neglect all forms of arts and entertainment. Do we really want to do that? Black entertainment suffers enough without us actively turning our backs on it. Isn’t it the same as folks burning down their own neighborhoods? BTW, this article is very well written (from one writer to another), even if I don’t agree with everything here. Kudos to you, Morgan Parker!

    Link: http://www.snopes.com/politics/crime/wilsonabc.asp

  10. Carole

    If we publically hold television programmers and production companies responsible for depicting and relegating black women, professional or not, as “some one who rides a man sexually,” and another as “A D I S G U S T I N G SLUT THAT ISNT GOOD FOR ANYTHING BUT ROUGH SEX,” we are negating the power of the writer, producer, and television network to characterize us as such, and saying we deserve better.

    I stay in awe of Viola Davis, she is simply brilliant as actor. But Shondra seems to have been out to lunch about the limited respect her white male writer/producer had for her sister. Not given up my power for some superficial, non existent bonding with Shondra Rhimes. I REPEAT McDreamy would never get lines like that to describe Meridith. Why not, you might ask? Hmmmmm……

    Fannie Lou Hamer had it so right. We need to get sick and tired and empower ourselves. Accepting that degrading scene from a sister’s production team is no different than accepting it from the white oligarchy in Hollywood.

    My intent is to send a message to ABC and SHONDRALAND to influence Shondra and her writers to consider her sisters in the same way she considers “Dr. Merdith Gray.” Believe me, boycotting HTGAWM will be painful, as Viola Davis is the best actor who every acted on television since its inception. But I look forward to watching anything she stars in in film, and any projects produced by her production company. Ms. Davis is a diamond (and not in the “rough”). Too bad Ms. Rhimes forgot that when she reviewed the “disgusting slut” scene in the script.

    • I truly understand your point but just as Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable is not Bill Cosby, Viola Davis is not whatever her character’s name is (I don’t like/watch the show). These actors are playing a role (which I know I don’t need to tell you this) but we seem to forget it. Yes, Rhimes needs to consider the impact she has on the masses, more specifically black women, and for the most part, I think she does do that. If I know Rhimes, the character being called a slut by her white husband (again, didn’t see it) will overcome and be redeemed if the audience is patient and waits on the brilliant Rhimes to bring the story full circle.

      • Carole

        I don’t give two hoots if it was a line that came out of the mouth of a White, Black, Asian or Russian character. Slut, good for nothing but rough sex was written by a white male. I don’t believe Shondra wrote it, but she had to green light it for it to be aired. And all the “this is what she really meant is pure denial (in my opinion). I still have those words someplace in my psyche. No black female actress on any tv show deserves that kind of verbal assault and degradation to prove she is resilient????? Give me a break. The animalistic sexual undertones in the writing only occur on scandal and htgawm, not on greys anatomy. I stopped watching scandal some time ago as I grew weary of the well positioned, more than attractive, savvy Black attorney who just couldn’t break a dim witted obsession to continue her affair with a married white, rather insipid, male who shows very little strength or good character. That plot has grown thin but it was the major hook they used to capture a large audience and it worked and still does for many viewers. Not this one….anymore. ” I’m the one you ride…” coming out of her second lover’s mouth put a period at the end of that decision. I’m not that desperate to see black woman on TV anymore, and I have faith some one will come along in the near future that will rely on creative writing, interesting plot lines, and great acting (she has Viola Davis for goodness sake????) to draw and keep high ratings.

      • Carole

        Perhaps you should go on Hulu or Netflix to check out the scenes that have been analyzed here. Just a suggestion.

  11. CC

    Thank you for this. It was very honest.

    Your comment “But something happened in my apartment on Thursday nights: we found a sort of healing. The wine flowed and we exhaled. We expressed our appreciation for one another. Conversations dipped in and out of irreverence and deep thoughtfulness around race, art, and gender. We were safe together. We were building community, keeping tabs on each other and ourselves.”

    That’s a setting similar to our Emotional Emancipation Circles “We come together to: share our stories; deepen our understanding of the impact of historical forces on our emotional lives, our relationships, and our community; free our minds and spirits from the lie of Black inferiority and heal from the emotional legacies of enslavement and racism…” http://communityhealingnet.com/emotional-emancipation-circles

  12. Adwa

    I feel you completely on this and I am so glad to read this as I had the same thoughts about everything from the images and messages to the paying of Darren Wilson. On that count however I give you the Snopes info – he wasn’t paid….still, there are the images. I will continue to wrestle with whether or not to keep watching… http://www.snopes.com/politics/crime/wilsonabc.asp

  13. Firstly, I’d like to comment on your writing in general–so beautiful and nuanced. I think you bring up very interesting points and ultimately, we have to realize like life and most television shows: It’s not black and white. We all operate in a gray area–that’s what makes life and (good) TV complex and interesting. I don’t watch HTGAWM–just reading those lines made me cringe. Every time Mellie calls Olivia a “whore” makes me cringe, when Fitz lashes out at Olivia in disrespectful ways makes me cringe. It’s messy, complicated, over-the-top and gussied up for primetime TV. If we want to continue seeing complicated characters of color, we’re going to have to swallow this pain in the hopes that someone will move beyond particular tropes in order to delve further into our stories. But I keep watching because it’s fun, maddening at times and sparks conversations like the one we’re having now! Great job and thanks for sharing <3

    • JR

      YES! I moved out of “SHONDALAND” a few months ago for the same reason, but with a twist. I kept looking for just ONE character, Black or white – young or old – JUST ONE character with any redeeming qualities. I could not find ANY! Then I realized that the person I admired most on the show was the one who reacted on pure animal instinct – Huck! He is uncomplicated and loyal. Nobody else on the show even comes close!!! I”m done!

  14. TNM

    I agree with you and applaud you expressing your honest opinion, that’s becoming rare these days.

    Yes, we know that we can change the channel and not watch, but it’s so far from that. We fail to realize that what we take in (either by visual observation or mental stimulation) and we like, we start to become BECAUSE we agree. We black people, have known about our “problems” for ages now. When are we going to start doing something about them, other than exploiting them under the guise of “education”? Anyone born into this beautiful race can and will see the hindrances against us, but if we continue to perpetuate them, what will change? Do we really believe that having a larger pile of crumbs and a higher position in a entity that we neither own nor have a truly controlling role in and is attempting to destroy us means that we have “made it” and are “overcoming our obstacles”? Are we really this thirsty? I have to wonder if Ms. R’s original pitch of this show is much like what’s currently flashing across our televisions and I also wonder about the types of revisions and the people making them. We forget that even though she’s the “Creator” and “Executive Producer” of this show, she’s also the Head Writer, which means that not only is she NOT the only person writing this show but also that she WORKS FOR the network that has AGREED to show it (Translation: She is, in fact, subject to the APPROVAL of SEVERAL higher levels for producing product that THEY would be interested in showing). So, while she’s very outspoken with the people watching the show, she is very much indebted (both contractually and by employment) to the entity paying her and is OBLIGATED to follow their wishes over her own. The problem with this? You and your children, who have the ability to make decisions that can actually change our future, are “attached” to the same hindering mentality that we want to get away from. I was born in 1975, just a few years after the civil rights movement and I’m noticing, from the research that I’ve done on that time period, that we’re living in the same era right now. What have we really accomplished (and I mean actual accomplishments, not just “the vision”)? Yes, we have a black president, but we also have black men and women being killed for no reason and with no apology in this very same time. Where is the respect? The Unity? The only things that are increasing within the black community is disrespect and dissension. Our men are increasingly seeing our women as barely worthwhile tools of pleasure and are becoming increasingly uninterested in creating a future with them and our women are losing more and more respect for our men because of it (I’m speaking generally here). Coincidentally, the dominating images we see are of us not being united or even agreeing, and this isn’t happening just between men and women but even same gender groups are shown as either passively aggressive competitors instead of friends or aggressive groups of people seemingly always in physical disagreement with one another. Look, bottom line is, you can watch what you want, but like the physical food we love to warn about, “you are what you eat”. Don’t become what you claim to hate.

    “My people parish for lack of knowledge” Hosea 4:6. Whether or not you like or even agree with the Bible, this statement is difficult to debate.

  15. RG

    This is very well written and you made some great points however you couldn’t be more wrong. Why is it as black people we expect for any black on television to be treated in a way that is not realistic to the world we live in. Your main flaw with her shows is the treatment that the white males show towards their black lovers. This kind of stuff happens all the time. Have you not heard or even been a victim of someone degrading your character based off the color of your skin? I know I have. I applaud Shonda to put this out there to show the world that YES it does happen. Why not look at it from this perspective: Annalise (Viola Davis) trusted her husband to love her, she trusted the white man and it backfired in her face. Perhaps thats why she is having an affair with a black man? Now that analysis could be far fetched but so could yours. I’m sorry I refuse to boycott black television, especially when it depicts us in a positive light. There is not one person on this earth who has never been called a bad name, it’s how you deal with that treatment that makes it more important. Jake stating to Olivia, “I’m the one you ride.” is not degrading it’s true, they had sex. but guess what she doesn’t love him and he’s upset that she chose Fitz over him so he lashes out like an ignorant immature child because that’s what people do. I have heard plenty of black men refer to the love of their lives as a “bitch” or “hoe” when upset, so what makes this different because it’s coming from a white mouth? People say disgusting hurtful things out of anger. Why shouldn’t this be aired on TV? You recognize how it made you feel, you realized that it wasn’t ok and you did not like it. That was the point of it being in the show! Shonda has stated and shown her support for blacks numerous times she doesn’t have to write a fairytale story to prove that she is not an “Uncle Tom”. We as black are very critical of our own to the point that it becomes detrimental. I have watched many shows and movies where whites have referred to their women/lovers as whores, sluts, etc. I am glad to be watching television where these black women are educated, sexy, successful and in spite of all that they are still fighting and struggling just like us to be treated equally a fight that we are all enduring.

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