With Hollywood’s long-standing issue of lack of representation in, not only, film but television, it’s refreshing when viewers are presented with ideas and storylines that contradict the misconceptions that audiences hold of people of color, whether it be conscious or not.
Since its beginning, Hollywood has been predominantly white; and when a person of color is cast, their characters usually serve as a perpetuation of deep-harbored stereotypes. However, while further work needs to be done, there has been noteworthy improvement.
Below are eight women of color in television who are shattering stereotypes—whether it be archetypes of being submissive, damsels in distress or whatever else women of color are supposed to be, these characters are having none of that nonsense.
Lucy Liu in “Elementary”
While primarily known for roles that always include some type of martial arts archetype (gee, how original), Liu shines in “Elementary“, the CBS remake of the Sherlock Holmes series, set in contemporary New York City with Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Liu as the female version of John Watson—now Joan Watson. There were initial complaints of this gender-bend from crybaby fanboys, but Liu’s surgeon turned sobriety companion turned skilled detective came into her own, surpassing that of the trusty sidekick to an independently strong character deep in depth with backstories actually explored. What a concept!
Gina Rodriguez in “Jane the Virgin”
Rodriguez’s Golden Globe for her role as Jane Villanueva in “Jane the Virgin” is one that was not only historic but very well-deserved. Playing a young Latina who repeatedly destroys the offensive “Spicy Latina” stereotype, Rodriguez makes it crystal clear that there are roles for women of color on TV that aren’t “the maids or the pregnant teens or the hookers or the drunk girlfriends”—women of color get to play the heroines too. The cast as a whole also does an amazing job at putting forth a performance that is wholly representative of the divide between first generation children and their immigrant relatives, as well as their struggle to find a balance between American and Latinx culture.
Priyanka Chopra in “Quantico”
A series set within two different timeframes—alternating between past and present to weave together the ultimate storyline, “Quantico“ is introduced with Chopra as Alex Parrish, one of numerous FBI recruits training to become special agents; she’s later framed to be a culprit of a deadly terror attack. Chopra’s lead role as the promising FBI agent trying to clear her own name combats the notion that only the Jason Bournes or 007s could be leading protagonists. Not today, Hollywood. Not today.
Samira Wiley in “Orange is the New Black”
Arguably the fan-favorite at Litchfield Penitentiary, Samira Wiley’s portrayal of Poussey Washington on OITNB is one that doesn’t hesitate to remind the world that the color of your skin is no indication of where you came from or where you’re going. The show greatly focuses on the fact that although Poussey was brought up by very successful and loving parents (her mother mastered in art history and her father was a major in the army), and she was a trilingual student on her way to study at West Point University, everyone who meets her simply expects her to be a stereotypical “ghetto prison rat.” Wiley does a spectacular job at beating that trope down to a pulp.
Viola Davis in “How to Get Away with Murder”
At times possessing antihero characteristics, Davis’ portrayal of law professor and defense attorney Annalise Keating in HTGAWM shatters just about every ideal of how women should be in that Annalise depicts an innate realness of a flawed human being. Whether it be seemingly ordinary scenes of makeup or wig removal or larger scenes depicting the disposal of bodies, there’s no other small-screen character quite like Annalise because let’s face it, women are rarely afforded the luxury of being multidimensionally complex without being immediately cast off as delusional.
Sandra Oh in “Grey’s Anatomy”
Created by the Queen of TV, Shonda Rhimes, and played by the beloved Sandra Oh, it’s hard for “Grey’s Anatomy” character, Cristina Yang to be anything but brilliant. Yang is a headstrong and stunningly talented doctor who takes all stereotypes of the docile, submissive Asian-American woman and utterly annihilates that dull narrative into oblivion. Throughout her time on the show, Yang fights tooth and nail to prove that women are just as much a force to be reckoned with as their male counterparts, and after refusing to be silenced in a field dominated by white men, she finally reaches the top as head of cardiothoracic surgery. Goals much?
Mindy Kaling in “The Mindy Project”
If you think about it, there isn’t really anything perceptibly innovative about “The Mindy Project“. The plotline of sharp-witted doctor Mindy Lahiri, dealing with the trials and tribulations of colorful coworkers and romance woes, sounds like literally every single rom-com in Hollywood, just in half-hour TV format. Yet, think of all those generic rom-coms and the leading ladies and you’ll find a common denominator of white-washed protagonists in the likes of Kate Hudsons or Anne Hathaways or Sarah Jessica Parkers. Kaling’s character overthrows those ingrained tropes and informs young people of color that, hey, that could totally be them, too—living out that romanticized life in bustling NYC.
Danai Gurira in “The Walking Dead”
Gurira’s portrayal of the katana-wielding Michonne in “The Walking Dead“ is so not here for any of Hollywood’s stereotypes. Introduced as a solemn, to-herself character due to the adversities she’s faced, Michonne proves to be one of the strongest characters of the series, combating perceptions of what constitutes as femininity and being so much more than the sidekick created to prop Rick up—coming to the rescue on numerous occasions. Come time of the zombie apocalypse IRL, I’d like to have Michonne, and Michonne only, by my side, please.
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