There’s a good chance fans of How to Get Away with Murder are still swimming in a sea of suspense following the second season premiere.
The hour-long thrill ride hit screens last night and plunged audiences back into an absorbing tangle of Philadelphia lawyers.
The show, carefully and cleverly crafted by mastermind Shonda Rhimes, follows the dubious debacles of cutthroat attorney/professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) and five of her law students. Oozing with deceit, mystery, and an ample amount of sex, the show offers a gripping glimpse into a wild world of intrigue.
Last night’s premiere didn’t deviate, introducing startling character developments and ultimately answering some questions while simultaneously hurling a handful of others at viewers.
Here are three tweets posted by shocked fans last night:
— Camille Angela (@khamilleesi) September 25, 2015
— Shirley Strawberry (@mygirlshirley) September 25, 2015
L.A.-based critic Mekeisha Madden Toby, a member of the TCA (Television Critics Association), said last night’s episode matched the characteristically fast-paced style fans have grown to expect. While the show was laced with twists and turns, Madden Toby said it was Davis’ multi-layered performance that had her on the tips of her toes.
“What kept me watching was Viola. She is perfect in this role. She can be so many people – she can be messed up and beautifully flawed and sexy and vulnerable and ugly. That’s range and material she wasn’t getting in movies,” said Madden Toby.
As Madden Toby alluded to, HTGAWM’s appeal rests in large part on the arresting performance of its gifted lead. Fans of the show are enraptured by the complexities of her character and Davis’ skillful ability to breathe life into the role, but this past weekend proved the industry has taken notice, too.
When the envelope was opened on stage at the Emmys and the winner for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series was revealed, Davis was rewarded for her impeccable work. It was the actress’s first Emmy, and she became the first woman of colour to be honoured with the particular prize.
Davis’ acceptance speech sparked wide-spread acclaim, especially with her bold assertion that, “The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.”
Here is Davis’ speech in full:
The evening was momentous for Davis, but some are reluctant to view her victory as a sign of progress.
“I’m not convinced that awards shows make much difference in solving issues of inequality where film or TV are concerned,” said Liz Braun, a film critic for the Toronto Sun. “Until 10 minutes ago, there were virtually no opportunities for women of colour…What we see as a society in entertainment is dictated by white males. Change is constantly being celebrated, but mighty slow to materialize.”
Heather Webb, executive director of WIFT-T (Women in Film and Television – Toronto), also harbours sentiments of hesitancy.
“Her win is historic and should be celebrated, but at the same time it does not indicate a change in terms of women of colour having equity both on and off the screen,” she said.
Webb addressed the need for inclusion of women in every dimension of television as well.
“As Viola mentioned in her speech, you can’t win an award if the role hasn’t been offered to you. It’s really important that women in every position are given opportunities,” she said. “They need to be on the hiring list, the casting list, they need access to adequate funds, they need to be in the greenlighting positions, in those executive roles. They especially need to be in the writing room.”
Webb pointed to the Boxed In Report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University for proof. The Report, released on September 15, 2015, depicted a stall in the rise of roles available to women.
“In 2014/15, women comprised 42 per cent of all speaking parts on broadcast TV. That’s a three per cent increase since 1997, so pretty glacier and nowhere near representative,” she said.
The Report also revealed a modest six per cent increase in the number of roles occupied by women behind the scenes. In 2014/15, only 27 per cent of creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography were female.
As fans of HTGAWM celebrate Davis’ win and attempt to piece together the premiere, or perhaps piece themselves back together if they’re still reeling in its wake, it’s important to maintain perspective. The show is sharp, the writing is engaging, and the performances are riveting. But for women, and women of colour specifically, the show does not represent the progress it’s praised for. There is a great gap still begging to be bridged.
“The fact that we celebrate, as a society, a historic win for Ms. Davis shows just how pathetic the state of entertainment has become,” Braun said. “Instead of celebrating, we should be protesting loudly that such a thing could take this long.”
How to Get Away with Murder airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CTV and ABC.