Warning: This article contains flashing images.
There will never be a more important time to address the portrayal of minorities in the media than this very moment. It is true that in recent years, diversity and equality have taken the front seat when it comes to representation as a conversation. However, in Hollywood, it seems, some stereotypes cannot be shaken.
The portrayal of black women in movies and television shows have always been linear and as much as efforts are being put to stray from the frequent narrative, the path seems to always return to familiar landing points.
The only time complex and well-rounded stories are told involving minority characters are when they are told by minorities themselves. But with more men telling the stories in Hollywood, the characterization of women, especially black women, remains problematic.
There is an expectation of black women to fit certain stereotypes and whatever that stereotype may be, Trish Murtaugh does not comply.
Keesha Sharp currently plays the highly underappreciated character of Trish Murtaugh on the television adaption of Lethal Weapon which debuted on the 21st of September, 2016. While there is not a lot of conversation around the character in terms of ground breaking black female characters in media today, in her own simple way, she defies stereotypes. Trish is not Annalise Keating nor is she Olivia Pope, she is certainly not Cookie Lyon; but she is different from the norm, relatable and the type of character black women need to see on television today.
Black women are known to be directly affected by the consistent restricted representation by the mass media today. While many effects of limited representation have indirect fallouts, stereotypes that are commonly perpetrated decides how society perceives the black woman and in turn, how it treats her. This directly results in how she sees herself and treats herself.
That is why a character like Trish Murtaugh is a necessity. She does not fit into any known black female stereotype – she is not the angry black woman, the ‘tunnel-visioned’ professional, the addict, the black best friend, the mammy archetype or the domestic homemaker. She just is.
Trish is portrayed as a loving mother, a supportive spouse, a kick-ass lawyer and a devoted friend (to Martin Riggs). She is proof that black women are capable of having it all, even though the media has gone out of their way to say otherwise.
It is without a doubt that Trish has had to combat many forces and different faces of criticism, sexism and maybe even racism to get to her present position. Even though the show does not explicitly say so but in today’s world – we can’t imagine that a woman of color became one of the most powerful lawyers in the city without facing any of form of prejudice.
Too many times, women – especially women of color – are told they cannot have it all. We are constantly reminded that we need to be twice as good to get half as much; or we need to sacrifice one for the other – a happy home life for professional success or vice versa. Trish begs the question – why do we have to choose?
Take a look at strong female characters like Olivia Pope, who is also a lawyer like Trish, she is constantly reminded in almost every conversation she had with her father (played by the brilliant Joe Morton) of her ‘blackness’ and her ‘femininity’. She is regularly reminded to be stronger and better because she is in a position of power that has constantly eluded both men and women of her heritage.
And as much as we need to be reminded of the harsh reality that women of color face in the world today, Trish Murtaugh is to be appreciated because she provides an escape that is not common in media today. The escape she provides is one of realistically grounded possibility that a black woman can have it all.
Trish and her family are happy, upper middle class, dealing with everyday American problems that are usually relegated to white families in cinema. She serves as a reminder that such contentment can be achieved. While the present American political climate might say otherwise, people should be reminded that it is okay for black women to want to be happy, successful, good parents, caring spouses and not have to deal to with a harsh racial climate every day. It is okay to want that. It is okay to believe that it can be achieved.
Trish’s character idealistically reminds women that it is possible to have that. Women of color don’t need to be reminded at every turn that the odds are stacked against them; trust me, they already know this. You’d be surprised at how rare we have characters like this on television today – we have Rainbow Johnson from Black-ish; we need more.
We need more characters in media today that serve the simple idealistic notion that is okay for black women to want more and it is possible to have it all.
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