The hit show How To Get Away With Murder (HTGAWM) is a great one. As a former watcher (I dropped off shortly after Wes was killed), I can truly attest to this.
However, what's not so great is that Shonda Rhimes and her team, even with all their talent, skill, and resources, can't seem to depart from the use racist troupes for their Black characters.
In case you have forgotten, the typical racist troupes (for Black, and sometimes, African people) include:
Coons - Lazy, stupid, wise-cracking, aimless Black men who do nothing but try to cut corners and/or entertain whites.
Bucks - Evil, virile (hyper-sexual), rowdy Black men that like to use their superior physicality to cause harm to whites, especially white women.
Toms - Good natured, passive, asexual Black men who love to serve their white masters. They are also often bible-toters.
Mammys - Asexual, good-natured, nurturing Black women that affectionately serve (domestically), protect, and raise immature whites/white children, often at the expense of their own families.
Aunt Jemima - A mammy whose prime identity revolves around her service as a culinary servant. Her (great) ability is often attributed to intangible things like talent, magic, and instinct, rather than things like skill or intellect.
Uncle Ben - The male version of an Aunt Jemima.
Tragic Mulattoes - The sexy, admixed Black woman that suffers in love and life. Normally this suffering is due to her (Black) heritage. This troupe is sometimes combined with 'the Jezebel' sub-troupe.
Jezebel - The sexually loose Black woman who uses her sexuality to corrupt (as a temptress), dupe, or destroy. The Jezebel may be depicted as a prostitute.
Sapphire - Arguably, the female counterpart of the Buck. She is a perpetually angry, vicious, relentless, and/or sassy Black woman. She is often shown either emasculating Black men or berating others around her. Her quick comebacks and never ending critiques are never seen as being insightful. Just repugnant and unnecessary.
Please note, there are a number of generalized micro-troupes that are widely applied to all non-white people in western media. They include, but are not limited to: The Undesirable Lover, The Exotic Love Interest, The Trophy, The Ethnic Moral Compass, The Mystic, The Sacrifice, The Representative of "People With Issues" (homosexuality, disability, mental illness, etc.), The Token Minority, etc. These micro-troupes grow more so out of racist attitudes than the distorted "observations" and generalizations that stereotypes tend to represent.
Below is a short list of some of the main Black characters in HTGAWM as well as their respective stereotypical archetypes:
Annalise Keating | The Sapphire-Mammy-Jezebel Hybrid
She's a Sapphire through and through: Domineering. Sharp-tongued. Always fierce. Tough. Willful. Independent. The list goes on...
She's a Mammy too. In her gruff way, she takes care of the bunch of misfits that work for her (ex. Bonny, and the werewolf guy, Frank). And then she moves on to professionally nurture/raise additional misfits (the interns Michaela, Wes, Connor, etc.).
Annalise has a high libido and all of her sex scenes are shot in horrendously bestial ways. There's not a lick of romance. The passion is overwhelmingly carnal. None of her sexual experiences or relationships have been above board or wholesome. All of them reeked of illicitness. She was introduced to sex through molestation by a family member. After college, she found some solace in lesbianism for a time. Then, while getting therapy, she became an adulteress and home-wrecker. She married her white, male therapist who left his wife to be with her. Her marriage turns out not to be a happy one. They both cheat on each other (with members of their own race). In one of their pivotal fights, she strikes a nerve of her husband's (the white male fear of sexual ineptitude compared to the Black male) by describing her raunchy relations with Nate, the guy she was cheating with. Her husband retaliates. He tells her that she was nothing but "a piece of ass". He said this is all he ever thought of her. (It's funny: isn't that how one would talk about a prostitute or a sexually loose woman?)
Later, her husband is accidentally killed by her students. She decides to help them cover it up. She officially moves on to a relationship with Nate, the adulterer she cheated on her husband with. By the way: Nate was also married when he started cheating with Annalise. Nate's wife was mentally ill.
Talk about messy.
Michaela Pratt | The "Smarty Pants" Sapphire
If there's one thing Michaela can do, it's argue. But the rest of her Sapphire characteristics come out in ways that are a bit different from your average Sapphire:
Her "relentlessness" comes out as "persistence". Her "viciousness" comes out as being ruthlessly competitive & ambitious. Instead of "angry", she is compulsive. She's gotta have the last word. She's gotta one-up you.
Lastly, her intelligence is actually evident. However, this intelligence is tempered with a type of obnoxiousness that gives us the repugnancy that we're used to with Sapphires.
You know what? Somehow, describing Michaela has reminded me of how vegans & vegetarians make dishes that resemble meat dishes.
Wes Gibbins | A "Spiced Up" Tom
Wes is "spiced up" because he's (allegedly) cute. We also get to see him have romances with several average-looking women. It's unusual to get to see Toms be sexual. Otherwise,
He is your typical boring, passive, good-natured Black guy. For some time, he is often seen as the only one campaigning for decency among Annalise's team of interns.
Nate Lahey | The Tom-Buck Hybrid
His rippling muscles bring in the virility that the buck is known for. He is where Annalise releases her sexual tension. But otherwise,
He serves as a sort of shrink for her.
He's a fed (a detective). Everyone knows that means he works to uphold massa's laws. uNfOrTuNaTelY, he is led astray by a Jezebelle (Annalise).
He is her favorite pet (guard dog). His muscles offer her a protection she's never known. He is submissive. He does what she tells him to (normally, snooping around).
The Tragic Mulatto
Caleb Hapstall | Tragic Mulatto
Lately, I've noticed a quiet, fledgling trend of male tragic mulattoes. Besides his sex, Caleb fits the bill for the Tragic Mulatto completely:
He's hot. He's admixed.
His pains in love and life are linked to his heritage, or rather, lack of one (since he's adopted): He was in love with a woman named Catherine, which was a problem because that was his (also adopted) sister.
He has racist adoptive family members (aunt) that don't really love him (or his sister) because they're non-white.
In a unique display of his moral depravity and psychosis (which taps into the Jezebel troupe vein), he ends up murdering his adoptive parents and aunt.
Normally, I focus on how white supremacy, racism, anti-blackness, and afrophobia affect the African race (and the diaspora). I generally don't talk about other races here. But it doesn't mean I don't notice what is being done with them. It just means that this is not the space that I want to spend on them. After all, they have their respective champions. I use my energy for my people.
BUT: I couldn't help myself with these two.
I just have to mention them because they're just...so gross.
Oliver Hampton: The Effeminate, Lotus Blossom Geek
Idk what the hell Shonda or her folks were thinking when they thought him up, but the best way that I can explain his impact is the phrase "adding insult to injury". Historically in western media, Asian males have been portrayed as either asexual or effeminate. From what I have seen, it is more likely that they choose asexuality to characterize the Asian male than femininity. But with Oliver, HTGAWM turns up the femininity TO THE MAX. He has a ton of behaviors that are characteristically ascribed to women.
This cutie-pie cries a lot.
He whines a lot.
Prior to Connor (the token homosexual white male) approaching him, he's a (sexually repressed) girl who just wants to have fun. Especially since he can't find solace in his "emotionally unavailable" family.
In other words, he's a tortured homosexual with a high libido who's hungry for the white man's affection, loyalty, and attention. Once he gets a taste of the pity sex Connor gives him, he's dickmatized. He incriminates himself to keep Conner.
He submissively does what Connor asks him to do, even though he knows he's just being used. He applies his (stereotypical) geeky-ness to help Connor and by extension, Annalise, hack into the computers of their adversaries to steal information.
Bonny Winterbottom: The "Fallen" White Woman Who Is Dependent on Mammy (Annalise)
Bonny's character is a doozy.
All my life I've seen Black characters that exist solely to be foils or props for white ones. I've also seen Black characters built out of stereotypes to compliment non-Black ones.
But I'd never seen a white character be built in response to (or as a function of?) a Black troupe.
Think about it: Without Annalise (our Sapphire-Mammy-Jezebelle star), Bonny's character would be completely irrelevant to the story.
She registers as a "fallen" white woman because of her grotesque history of being sexually abused. This is not something that we normally see being so distinctively centered in any white woman's story on tv or in the movies (save, maybe, the movie I Spit On Your Grave).
Bonny is also strangely dependent and obsessed with Annalise. At her big age (she's in her 40s) she's still hanging around Annalise playing secretary and looking for her marching orders. Sometimes she seems to look for a sticker when she shows some initiative.
Bonny's misfortune seems to have blocked her from realizing all she has going for her: She's alive, and healthy (I think??? She looked anorexic to me, but I don't think anyone else said she was).
She's white, she's blonde, she's petite. She's a capable lawyer. It's true she lost her son, and was assaulted, but most of her assailants have been punished.
All that is far more than what others with such pitiful beginnings have going for them.
Why doesn't she just move on and do her own thing?