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New York Times Apologizes for Calling Shonda Rhimes 'Angry Black Woman'

New York Times Apologizes for Calling Shonda Rhimes 'Angry Black Woman'

Plus, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis and more react to offensive article.

Published September 23, 2014

After causing an outrage with an article calling Shonda Rhimes an "angry Black woman" on Friday, the New York Times has finally apologized to the prolific showrunner and to those angered by the mischaracterization of one of the most powerful women in television. Accepting that the article, written by TV critic Alessandra Stanley, was "astonishingly tone deaf and out of touch," the Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan agreed that "commentators are correct to protest" the offensive piece.

"There are some big questions here — about diversity, about editing procedures and about how The Times deals with stories about women and race. They are worth exploring in depth," continued Sullivan.

Writer and longtime Times TV critic Stanley released a statement to Us Weekly addressing the review on Monday. "In the review, I referenced a painful and insidious stereotype solely in order to praise Ms. Rhimes and her shows for traveling so far from it. If making that connection between the two offended people, I feel bad about that. But I think that a full reading allows for a different takeaway than the loudest critics took," Stanley said.

"I didn’t think Times readers would take the opening sentence literally...Regrettably, this stereotype is still too incendiary to raise even in arguing that Ms. Rhimes has killed it once and for all," she concluded.

Times culture editor Danielle Mattoon also offered her apologies for the article. "There was never any intent to offend anyone and I deeply regret that it did," Mattoon told Sullivan. "Alessandra used a rhetorical device to begin her essay, and because the piece was so largely positive, we as editors weren’t sensitive enough to the language being used." Mattoon revealed that three editors vetted the story, but none raised "objections or questioned the elements of the article."

Many of Rhimes's friends, fans and colleagues in the business jumped to her defense after the Times published its article. The Hollywood Reporter asked thirty of Rhimes's stars, from her hit shows Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and the upcoming How to Get Away With Murder, to come up with three words to describe their boss besides "angry Black woman." Among those who answered were Kerry Washington ("brilliant, compassionate, courageous") and Viola Davis ("innovative, courageous, visionary"). The latter was also a target of the NYT piece, in which Stanley referred to Davis as "less classically beautiful."

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(Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Written by Evelyn Diaz

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