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This essay is going to cover how the American television show How to Get Away with Murder, HTGAWM, implements to an extent the idea of colour-blind ideology. It will also examine the show in relation to colour-blind ideology through the stories plot and racial changes in society with it supporting the use of blind casting whilst also addressing the issues that it arises with it. It will conclude how colour-blind ideology has influenced the overall production of the show and if the show successfully implements the ideology.
HTGAWM, is an American ABC television drama that follows Annalise Keating, a criminal defense attorney and professor, and her students who become entangled in a murder. It was originally aired over 5 years ago on September 25th 2014 it currently has five seasons released with talks of there being a sixth. The show is produced by Shonda Rhime who is well known for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. She is also well-known for using the technique of colour-blind casting otherwise known as blind casting within her shows. HTGAWM uses the elements of a non-linear narrative through flash-forwards, flashbacks and time lapses to help drive each season.
Racial views within American society have changed over the years, one of the most significant changes for this would be when the Civil Rights Movement Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and the Jim Crow Laws were removed. The Jim Crow Laws were enforced within the late 1800s and early 1900s and were designed to enforce segregation between blacks and white. This was noticeable within places like restrooms, school and transportation.
Due to these laws as many as 6 million African-Americans relocated from the South, this is often known as the Great Migration. Abolishing this law as well as establishing the others were important steps within their society as they successfully removed any barriers that were in place for the African American community. This meant that any remaining racial inequalities were because of a person’s choice and not because of a policy. Furthermore, at the heart of colour-blind ideology, people believed that racism was no longer part of America’s social structure.
Yet, it is believed that the colour-blind era and the rise of post-racial politics did not truly start until 2008, with the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president. With the election it appeared to be a new era for America due to their racial history with slavery and the Jim Crow Laws which provided heavy segregation. While many people hoped that his presidency would bring the new era into a more racially accepting society, it actually shown a rise in more racism within the country. Additionally to this, Obama Himself has said ‘’After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society’’. This statement alone proves that even though America had crossed a large hurdle in achieving a post-racial society, it could never be one hundred percent free from racism as racism is and always will be part of society. By having this ideology that race can be ignored it also brought arise to colour-blind casting.
Colour-blindness is the claim that race does not matter in American society. The idea that colour does not matter lead to the rise of colour-blind casting, as mentioned briefly before. This type of casting is done when characters are created without an ethnic background, this allows anyone to get casted as the role as they are looking for the perfect candidate without taking into account ethnicity. HTGAWM does this successfully as the show has an extremely diverse cast and does not use any of their backgrounds to provide a label for them. The cast itself is made of up student trainees, employees and lovers of the female lead. Within the series, Annalise Keating takes 5 of her students, known as the Keating Five, to work at her law firm with two of her assistants. Both of her assistants are white with the Keating Five being made up of Two white Americans, Two African-Americans and a Latino. As well as this, the series introduces a Filipino-American who is the gay lover of Connor, one of the white Americans. However, by using colour-blind casting the show ignores a chance to fully represent what American society is like. For example, within the show Annalise Keating is a black lawyer teaching at a law school where multiple mixed ethnic people attend her seminar.
This clearly does not reflect American society as the classroom would not be as diverse with only 35 percent of lawyers being women and 8. 1 percent of Lawyers being women of colour. Additionally with this figure, it is even rarer for Annalise to be a lawyer with her also being part of the LGBTQ bracket that falls under 3 percent. Generally, critics have a problem with this type of ideology as they feel that it takes away people’s identities, ignores racist experiences and comes across as racist in itself due to its ignorance toward what American society is actually like. The ideology is arguably implemented within the show through the character of Annalise Keating because within the series everyone admires her for her amazing skills as a lawyer. This essentially removes her racial identity within the show as many people just want to learn from her, the character is also part of a mixed-race relationship. Due to all of this, it is arguable that her character is the enabler of colour-blindness within the series. Her character also sets up the diverse group, the Keating five, which the show is centred around.
However, within HTGAWM you could argue that the show did attempt to break out of its colour-blindness through the character of Wes. This is due to the fact that the first instance race is mentioned or brought up within the series is within the second episode, entitled It’s All Her Fault, when two characters question Wes’s position in the Keating Five. During this conversation a racial joke is made that Wes and Annalise might be related ‘’Maybe he is her secret baby and she gave him up for adoption and he doesn’t even know?’’. This is instantly shot down with disapproval and creates the impression that one of the characters are slightly racist. This makes a strong link towards what American society is like as even though it was intended as a joke it came across racist and racism is still a dominant feature within American society. Another example of when race is mentioned is again through Wes when referring to his racial background, in season one, where he tells his girlfriend he was the ‘’only black kid in town’’. His ethnic background is not mentioned again or amplified further into his character. However, by glossing over the issues through Wes it could be seen as disrespectful due to the fact that they do not go into clear details, they just mention his background. By doing this, they are showing acknowledgment of racial awareness yet by not exploring it, it misses a chance to show audiences that the world is not ‘race’ free. When taking all of this into account you can argue that while the show does acknowledge racism it does not use the cast’s ethnic backgrounds unless necessary for the plot to progress and make sense.
Within episode six season one race is a core theme of the episode, the episode is entitled ‘’Freakin’ Whack-a-Mole’’. Within the episode it follows Annalise appealing a case for David Allen who was imprisoned for murdering his White girlfriend. This episode creates backstory for Annalise’s character as the case originally opened her eyes ‘’to the fact that the justice system does not always reward people who tell the truth, but those who create their own. ’’ This references the injustice within the legal system and how innocent people have suffered from this. An article published in 2014, roughly 5 months before the show premiered, claimed that approximately four-point one percent of people imprisoned was a mistake (Hughes, 2014). With the show including such a controversial subject it would have shed some light on the justice system with how they treat any case.
Linking back to what Obama said about race remaining a potent part of American society, within the show Annalise states something very similar ‘’Racism is built into the DNA of America and as long as we turn a blind eye to the pain of those suffering under its oppression, we will never escape those origins… Due to the failure of our justice system, our public defence system in particular, Jim Crow is alive and kicking. ’’ This quote is from season four episode thirteen, entitled Lahey v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This statement combined with what Obama has stated suggests that while the show attempts to promote this ideal colour-blind world it brings to fruition what society needs to change in order to achieve something similar as well as pointing out that a colourless society is near impossible.
If the show chose to ignore the ideology all together the characters racial background would be amplified further and written into their character development. Yet if this was done all of the characters that we have met within the show would be subject to act according to their ethnicity. For example, the Latino would be expected to speak Spanish for a majority of each season or episode. The African-Americans would be faced with direct racism while the two white Americans would live a privileged life whilst doing what is expected of them. By having the show ignore the ideology all-together it would make the show branch out into different territory making it harder for the show to keep its current non-linear narrative structure. This is because the series structure itself would simply not have time or the room to fit in each character’s ethnic issues into the series directly. For it to add in the characters ethnicities the overall structure would have to change essentially ruining the show.
In summary, HTGAWM, does depict race and racial diversity within the show. But it also depicts a post racial narrative structure that relies on colour-blind logic where the characters have been deracialised. The show also helps to take society closer to a post-racial era by ignoring character backgrounds and making everyone appear normal. Normalizing non-racialized characters which exemplifies the liberal individualist discourse of a post-racial America. Overall, the show works as a way to represent the current views society has on racism by ignoring race all together. So arguably the show successfully follows the idea of colour-blind ideology but also breaks it at key points within the series, with this the show clearly shows an ideal colourless world that shows everyone as equals whilst still portraying aspects of colour.
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