The New York Times found itself in an Internet dust-up with uber producer Shonda Rhimes on Friday following the online publication of a story by TV critic Alessandra Stanley assessing Rhimes’ smallscreen milieu.
The story was taken to task by Rhimes and plenty of other readers for a tone that struck many as being tone-deaf and racist in parts.
Although the piece, “Wrought in Their Creator’s Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes’ Latest Tough Heroine,” was praiseworthy overall of Rhimes’ work, the references to the producer and female characters in her ABC shows being “angry black women” were lightning rods for many readers. The lead sentence is “when Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away with Being an Angry Black Woman.’”
In a statement emailed by the Times, Stanley appeared to blame the hothouse environment of Twitter for stirring such a negative reaction to her story.
“The whole point of the piece — once you read past the first 140 characters — is to praise Shonda Rhimes for pushing back so successfully on a tiresome but insidious stereotype,” Stanley said.
Rhimes took issue with the “angry black woman” characterization as well as the references to Viola Davis, star of the latest series from Rhimes’ shop, “How to Get Away with Murder,” as being “older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington,” a comparison to “Scandal” star Kerry Washington.
Rhimes further criticized Stanley’s story for not recognizing that “How to Get Away with Murder” was created not by her but by Peter Nowalk, a white man who is a “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” alum.
Stanley’s story was published Thursday on the Times’ website and is scheduled to run in print in the Arts section of Sunday’s edition. Rhimes is scheduled to do a Q&A in Washington, D.C. tonight with NPR entertainment blogger Linda Holmes hosted by the Smithsonian Institution.
UPDATE: Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times’ public editor, has responded to the outcry with a Sept. 22 post that is critical of Stanley’s piece and said that she was questioning Times’ editors on the matter.
“The readers and commentators are correct to protest this story. Intended to be in praise of Ms. Rhimes, it delivered that message in a condescending way that was – at best – astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch,” Sullivan wrote.
NPR’s Holmes, meanwhile, posted a lengthy essay on her Q&A with Rhimes.