annalise keating argues her way out of stereotypes

Cameron Lee, Maret '16

Although she may not be the most likeable person, Annalise Keating (the protagonist on ABC's How To Get Away With Murder) is a complex, well-written character that is unique in an industry full of one-sided portrayals of black women. (Published: 2016)

“Media bias” technically means the way that journalists and news organizations selectively cover stories within the mass media, and clearly there have been many instances of media bias in the past few years with seemingly all the social issues in this country coming to a head. But when I heard “media” I immediately thought of TV and movies, and decided to take a different route by writing about my experiences with seeing diversity, specifically women of color, in the things I like to watch. The media often chooses to portray black women in stereotypical, single-sided ways, from the “sassy black girl” persona to the “angry black woman.” Often times in movies meant to target young people there is one black girl who serves as the token black character, or someone the producers felt the need to include solely to provide some aspect of diversity. These characters usually contain little to no depth and are certainly not as well developed as their white counterparts. I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but it hurt me to see so little of myself in what I liked to watch when I was in middle and elementary school. The lack of adequate representation of black women in the media and my lack of interaction with other African-American women (I have always attended predominantly white schools) resulted in me subconsciously distancing myself from my culture. The only black women I regularly saw on TV were loud, opinionated, and bold, and I wasn’t like that, so I couldn’t possibly relate to them and who they represented, right?

The first complicated, well-developed black female character I can honestly remember seeing on a show I watch regularly is Annalise Keating from ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. I probably connected with other African American female characters before then, but the way my attitude changed while watching Annalise do her thing was a real game-changer for me. When I first started watching HTGAWM, my initial thought was “Oh great, another African-American woman portrayed in a negative light and demonized by the fans,” because in case you don’t watch the show, Annalise is a driven, take-no-prisoners lawyer who is essentially willing to step on anyone to get what she wants. And that’s not all: she has plenty of vices. She drinks, she lies, she cheats on her partners, and the list could go on. But she is also brilliant, sharp and cunning, she cries, she yells, she gets infuriated and scared, she


hurts people, and she gets hurt. I initially thought that this was another case of terrible media misrepresentation of a black woman because Annalise is kind of a bad person, but what I understand now is that it doesn’t matter if she is a bad person. Black women don’t need to be portrayed positively to be complex and deep characters, because that’s just as unrealistic as every black female character being portrayed negatively or stereotypically. Annalise can’t be defined by one or two labels or put into a box, and this is exactly what is important for black female characters: they need to have the same level of amazing complexity that white female characters do in similar shows. There are things about Annalise that young black women can relate to and things that they can’t, but that’s okay. In my opinion, as long as she is a character that breaks the mold of how black women are typically portrayed in the media and represents something real in the context of an equally amazing show, I’m going to watch every episode.