watch this and answer those questions below.
This video is a trailer of first season of the television drama, How To Get Away With Murder. The lead character is Professor Annalise Keating, a renowned criminal defense attorney and law professor at Middleton University in Philadelphia, who selects five students from her class to be interns in her law firm: they are Wes Gibbins, Connor Walsh, Asher Millstone, Michaela Pratt, and Laurel Castillo. Together, along with Keating’s team: Frank Delfino and Bonnie Winterbottom, they solve two murders, one of which involves Keating’s white husband, Sam Keating, and Rebecca Sutter, who is Wes Gibbins’ neighbor and eventually his girlfriend.
How to Get Away with Murder is one of the few shows today that cast an African-American actor in the lead role, let alone an African-American actress. Usually, there will only be one or two African-American actors in a show, and they are side characters or the “best friend of the white lead character”, never the protagonist. As Chris Rock mentions in his essay, when Starsky & Hutch was in the works of becoming a movie, his manager told him that they “might be able to get (him) the part of Huggy Bear”. His own manager didn’t even think of the possibility that Chris could play the lead roles. However, Chris goes on to say that even though this is a “white industry”, he never limited himself and continued to think that he could play those parts—the lead roles. Actors who are people of color continue to believe and strive hard to get those main roles in the entertainment industry. That’s why, it is nice to see that in this TV show, not only are there two African-American actors as supporting roles in the main cast, but also the lead role is given to an African-American actress.
At the same time, this show passes the Bechdel Test:
there are at least two named female characters, who
talk to each other about
something other than a man
There are five main characters in the show that are women, who talk to each other about the case, the evidences, study strategies, and ways to deal with anxieties after witnessing and hiding a dead body. The women in How To Get Away With Murder are strong, confident, and intellectual that they can hold a commanding presence in the room and are really wise in coming up with tactics and strategies in court trials. I believe that it is empowering to see more of these kinds of female characters. However, it’s also sad to see that even though these women are portrayed as strong characters, there is still a twist that eventually leads them back to the arms of male characters and the need to find strength in them. For example, even though Annalise Keating is strong and confident in the court, when she is by herself, she breaks apart, becomes vulnerable, and finds comfort in her lover, Det. Nate Lahey. Another example is Rebecca Sutter, who initially was an independent woman who made her own decisions on how she will be dealt with in the murder case she was involved. But with the help and support from Wes, she slowly learns to trust others and depend on him to help prove her innocence in the case. Therefore, even though the show passes the Bechdel Test and lets women have the lead, writers still find ways to bring these women back to be dependent on a male character.
1. What are some “messages” that can be decoded from TV shows that cast people of color in lead roles? What type of hypothetical position do you think these decodings are constructed from?
2. Do you think that the entertainment industry, or specifically the television industry, has been better these days in providing better representation for people of color? If yes, how? If no, why not?
3. Can you think of other examples of TV shows that pass the Bechdel test?
4. How do you think women are being portrayed in television these days? Are independent women characters truly independent?