How To Get Away With Murder’s 2018-2019 mid-season finale overpowers and undermines its recent comments about flaws in the judicial system, especially when it comes to perceptions of and treatments of Black men.
Nate Lahey (Billy Brown) receives unstable, developing word that leads him to believe that DA Ron Miller (John Hensley) had his father, Nate Lahey, Sr. (Glynn Turman), killed. Without warning, Nate–a buff Black man–savagely beats Miller until the surrounding snow turns red. Nate punches his face over and over and again and again and over and over. Miller’s face is beyond recognition, and he is gasping for his last breaths. Nate also struggles to breathe from exhaustion.
Such a twist has implications that are racist. Since at least The Birth of a Nation (1915) writers have used the “Brutal Black Buck” to teach new generations and re-teach the current ones that Black men cannot be trusted and do not deserve inclusion in everyday society. This trope describes characters–who are Black and male–who have unpredictable outbursts of deathly violence.
In real life, Black men are wrongfully profiled while driving, learning, shopping, walking, or working (and are sometimes shot to death) because such images make such an imprint and have so much gravity. Individuals who (un)consciously act on such mores cannot bear the full burden. They are perfectly following what the United States’s colonialist ideas have taught. Only when media networks expand their “diversity and inclusion” commitments (which currently tend to focus on having queer characters who live) to include a serious overhaul of how directors create Black male characters can everyday individuals truly begin to maybe change their habits.
Images are more powerful than words. Reform requires systemic measures.
Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda