Wither TV's 'Strong Black Woman' Trope?

Kerry Washington (Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Variety); Nicole Beharie (Paul A. Hebert/Getty Images)
Kerry Washington (Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Variety); Nicole Beharie (Paul A. Hebert/Getty Images)

Kerry Washington's role as Olivia Pope on Scandal and Nicole Beharie's as Abbie Mills on Sleepy Hollow have effectively helped dismantle the age-old television stereotype of the strong, stoic black woman as they portray characters who are allowed to be emotional.


"Olivia Pope and Abbie Mills push against the idea of the Strong Black Woman through emotional breakdowns and explicitly expressing their wants and needs," writes Buzzfeed's Nichole Perkins. "As frustrating as it is to see Olivia cry frequently, it's also important that she be allowed to."

Washington's character is a lawyer who specializes in crisis management, helping clients protect their secrets and reputations. Beharie's Mills is a small-town police officer, whose life becomes entwined in a possible biblical prophecy. Each woman is required to promote the safety of others, solve problems and remain calm as they navigate stress-filled environments. While these are typical traits of strong black women, the difference here is that Pope and Mills are allowed to cry, plus experience a range of other emotions on camera.


Overall, black women are usually portrayed as feeling no pain.

"In a recent episode of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a former operative — a black woman — required eye surgery," Buzzfeed's Perkins writes. "Unfortunately, she could only receive a local anesthesia, leaving her awake throughout the procedure. A current S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, already a bit squeamish, hesitated to insert a needle into her eye, so the patient did it herself, unflinchingly, with no reaction."

Good for Washington and Beharie for breaking the mold. What do you think? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Read more at Buzzfeed.

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