As an African-American woman, it is incredible to see myself through the television screen. Nowadays, I find myself watching more African-American women in the spotlight in television shows. Characters like Olivia Pope, Abbie Mills, Annalise Keating, Mary Jane Paul, Rainbow Johnson and new addition Cookie Lyon, are just some of the African-American female leads presented in popular network series.
One element to admire most about all of these beautiful characters is that they are all well-rounded. They are not stereotypical of who an African-American woman is. While watching these characters and the situations they have encountered, these women are opposite of what is commonly heard about African-American women.
In a journal article by Dr. Carolyn West titled “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Their Homegirls,” West describes these stereotypes. The Mammy takes care of everyone else’s needs while disregarding her own. The Sapphire is angry and aggressive and the Jezebel is sex-crazed. But that is not the case with these lovely characters. Instead, they are diverse with unique human experiences and lives.
Olivia Pope from the hit ABC show Scandal is a powerful crisis manager who helps politicians when any bad news, like a sex tape or photos of an affair, leaks about them. It is her job to make their reputations respectable again. Lieutenant Abbie Mills from Sleepy Hollow is a Witness of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. She works with her partner, Ichabod Crane, to stop the Horsemen from destroying the world. Annalise Keating, the lead character in How to Get Away with Murder, is a Criminal Law professor and defense attorney. Mary Jane from Being Mary Jane is a journalist who works on a talk show. Rainbow Johnson in Black-ish is an anesthesiologist with a wonderful family she believes in. Cookie from Empire is the original starter of Empire, a record label that is now owned by her ex-husband, that she is determined to own again.
Although these characters have distinct, interesting lives, they are all relatable in some way. Whether you have more in common with Mary Jane than Cookie, you can find some part of yourself in either one or maybe all of these ladies. If you cannot connect with these individuals in anyway, perhaps you may have similarities with Fish Mooney from Gotham, Michonne from The Walking Dead, Candace Young from The Haves and the Have Nots, or possibly President Constance Payton from State of Affairs. Either way, all of these brilliant African-American female characters, played by talented, gorgeous actresses, will remind you that you are not alone. There is someone out there like you.
There definitely is someone like me: Abbie Mills. She is 5’1; I am 4’11. It is pleasing to see a female character that is not the average height. I also love that she is not limited by it either; she is actually quite intimidating, honest and really handy with a gun. Mary Jane is a successful journalist, which is what I am working my way towards becoming. If she is ambitious enough to reach her dreams, I can do it, too. Olivia Pope always takes care of business; her fearlessness and dedication is what makes her a leader. She does not slack off; everything is always “handled.” It is the reason why I make sure to do a decent job with all of my responsibilities.
Besides some of their admirable traits, these characters are all flawed. However, they do work towards correcting their mishaps. Olivia Pope has an on-and-off again affair with President Fitzgerald Grant, yet she tries her best to steer clear of him. She goes as far as to “standing in the sun” with Jake Ballard, another love interest. Abbie Mills turned her back on her sister Jenny. When they were younger, Abbie lied when she said she did not see a demon in the forest as her and sister walked home from school. As a result, Jenny was locked up in a mental institution while Abbie was not. Years later, Abbie reunited with her sister and even let Jenny live with her. Cookie went to prison for 17 years after being caught selling drugs. Recently released, she is dedicated to making sure her sons, especially Jamal, have great careers. In all, these characters’ mistakes go to show that no one is completely clean; we all have dirt somewhere.
No matter which African-American female character you find most interesting or similar to you, it is amazing and inspiring that we now have variations of ourselves presented on television.