Notes on Flawed Characters vs. Flawed Scripts

I often aspire to help my students realize the difference between flawed characters and flawed scripts, but recently realized I had sometimes neglected to apply this notion to my own cultural criticism. My thoughts about How To Get Away With Murder help illustrate. 

Basically every character in How To Get Away With Murder is deeply flawed, deeply corrupt–the kind of individuals who would be dangerous to be around or even know in real life. Characters have murdered over two dozen people and in the aftermath, framed other people, destroyed evidence, and told lie after lie. Back in September, I actually posted a tweet saying that the show had “too many lies, deceptions, deaths, etc.” and explaining that I wasn’t going to watch anymore. 

My mom, however, said we had watched everything so far, so we might as well finish the final season. And then I remembered that while the characters are deeply horrific, the story is suspenseful. How To Get Away With Murder does include twist after twist and always defies expectations. Nothing–except additional death–has been predictable. 

However, I do standby the concerns articulated in past blogs, especially its violent representations of Black men and its normalization of corruption. And yet, it has made a few especially bold statements, such as calling out deep, institutional racism in the United States. 

On a related note, sometimes I hear criticism of a film simply because it has a racist or sexist or homophobic character. Depending on the overall structure of the film, such a representation can serve a positive and much needed purpose. Flawed or immoral characters do not necessarily equate to flawed or immoral scripts (or flawed directors, writers, performers).    

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda