Many have heard of the increasingly popular primetime show How to Get Away with Murder which has aired on ABC since September 2014. The show was created by Peter Nowalk and produced by Shondaland in addition to ABC Studios. All of the seasons of the show can be watched on the streaming platforms Netflix and Hulu. I chose to analyze this show because it has gained a great reputation for its progressive accounts regarding the African American, female, and LGBT experience in today’s society. For this essay in particular, I have chosen to research and discover whether or not the show lives up to its reputation of upholding a good representation of the “B” as in bisexual in LGBT characters. In order to accomplish this, I will analyze five seasons of How to Get Away with Murder and identify the main character whom I would say identifies as bisexual. Through the use of deciphering specific conversations and events that appear to be relevant to the bisexual community.
How to Get Away with Murder revolves around Annalise Keating who is played by the actress Viola Davis. Annalise balances her busy life between being a lawyer who runs her own firm and a law professor. In the earlier seasons, Annalise was also the wife of ten years to Sam Keating, a professor at the same institution she teaches at before he was accidentally murdered by her law students, turned, interns. Throughout the first season of the show, Annalise seems to portrayed as a strictly heterosexual female. All of this changes during the second season, it is revealed that before meeting Sam, Annalise had a relationship with a woman named Eve while attending law school together.
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Annalise’s newfound sexuality becomes a reoccurring part of the show despite her never really addressing herself as bisexual. In episode thirteen during season two Annalise even went on to deny that she was gay. During this episode Eve accuses Annalise of leaving her because she was afraid to be a lesbian, stating that Annalise had to go to therapy after the end of their relationship because, “it was the fact that I had a vagina” (“Something Bad Happened”). Eve demands that Ansalise admits that she in fact left her because she was scared, that is when Annalise states, “No, I left you because I’m not gay” (“Something Bad Happened”). This poses a very confusing reaction from Annalise because she professed her love for Eve still and also partake in a kiss. In addition to this, in season three Annalise is also shown being bisexual through her relationship with a law associate at her firm named Bonnie. Both women share one major commonality in that they both were abused as children sexually by members of their own family. This makes their bond strong despite the fact that Annalise’s speech towards Bonnie is very derogatory. Surprisingly, even though Annalise is seeing another man following her dispute with Eve and death of her husband, she shares a kiss with Bonnie.
Although Annalise is seen as being sexually attracted not exclusively to people of one particular gender, she never really labels her sexuality. The closest Annalise gets to doing so is when in season two she states, “Live your life. I live mine, straight or gay, whatever you want to call it” (“Something Bad Happened”). The reluctancy to define herself as bisexual is seen by critics to be a good thing providing an example of gender fluidity, however, this proves to serve more harm to the LGBT community than it does good.
I believe that this is bad because not identifying as bisexual contributes to the stigma that bisexuality is not a real thing and that sexuality is either black or white. In “The Trope of the Evil Television Bisexual,” author Spencer Kornharber states, “Studies have revealed widespread stigma and disbelief facing people who identify as bisexual” (Kornharber,2014). Essentially embodying Annalise as a walking stereotype. Her failure to label her sexuality contributes to the stereotype that bisexuality is not actuality. In “Representing Bisexuality on Television: The Case for Intersectional Hybrids,” author Michaela Meyer states, “They [bisexual characters] do not ‘come out’ as bisexual, rather their sexuality is introduced casually, usually as a secondary plot device. Although this could be read as a blurring of our understanding of sexual identity, or an attempt to provide more fluid sexual identities on television, it can also be read as refixing hegemonic discourses by stabilizing heterosexual and homosexual as valid, nondebatable identities” (Meyer 380). Therefore, by depicting gay, lesbian, and heterosexual characters as stable and rational in their sexual classifications, bisexual characters, like Annalise, who fail to classify their sexual identies on television shows, are embodying the stereotype of an “unstable, confused bisexual” (Meyer 380). In addition, Spencer Kornharber states, “But while gay and lesbian characters on TV increasingly are portrayed in a way that doesn’t make their sexuality into a large and dubious metaphor about their character, bisexuality often is portrayed as going hand-in-hand with moral flexibility” (Kornharber, 2014 ). In order to, determine the accuracy of these statements, let’s take another LGBT character and compare their character to that of Annalise. For instance, Connor Walsh, one of the openly gay characters on the show, is open and forthright about his sexuality from the beginning of season one, mirroring his logical and composed demeanor whereas Analise’s character is the opposite. While Connor’s character represents intelligence, unlike Annalise’s character he lacks any self shame or reluctance about his sexuality. In fact, Connor had demonstrated that he was sure of his sexuality from a young age as stated in episode 49, Season 4. When Connor was 12, he came out to his parents at the dinner table stating that if they didn’t accept him that he would run away. While Pam, Connor’s mother, was having a breakdown, Jeff, Connor’s father,gained the courage to come out to his wife a week later. Once the divorce was finalized, Jeff got together with his husband, Ted, the following year. (“Was She Ever Good at Her Job?”). Showing the coming out story of both Connor and his father identifying themselves as gay males further contributes to the sterotype that bisexuality is not seen as taken seriously because of Annalise’s failure to definivitivley label herself.
The show poses Annalise’s character to be stereotypical in a way that she is seen as being irrational, unpredictable and overly sexualized. These are all characteristics that are contributed commonly to bisexual characters. According to Kornharber, “The tropes, as identified by GLAAD: bisexual characters who are depicted as untrustworthy, prone to infidelity, and/or lacking a sense of morality; characters who use sex as a means of manipulation or who are lacking the ability to form genuine relationships; associations with self-destructive behavior” (Kornharber,2014). This excerpt describes Annalise’s character perfectly, her behavior throughout the show is always very controversial. She often times is willing to play with others’ emotions, break the law, and even use sex appeal in order to manipulate others and further her own legal career. According to Myer, a common stereotype attributed to bisexuals is to have “morally depraved identities” (Meyer 377), in which Annalise’s character epitomizes this familiar stereotype. As for being oversexualized, looking past the obvious of Annalise having mutiple partners both male and female throughout the show, her late husband Sam also had things to say about how he viewed her as only good for sex. In season one, episode nine, Sam Keating tells Annalise, “That’s all you’re really good for: dirty, rough sex that I’m too ashamed to tell anyone about. That’s how foul you are, you disgusting slut” (“Quotes For Sam Keating”). This quote is taxing because it allows people to associate Annalise’s sexual preferences with her sexual identity, as Sam denounces her and practically casts her in a way that she is seen as strictly sexual like a fetish rather than a loving wife.
Aside from the many stereotypes cast on Annalise in How To Get Away With Murder,the show also uses Annalise’s sexuality to make a profit. In the book The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television, the author remarks, “A highly commodified version of bisexuality can be exploited by a wide range of markets, especially media markets” (San Filippo 21). The show itself is targeted towards a heterosexual audience, but through Annalise’s bisexual tendancies the show is able to capture the attention of the LGBT community as well. With this being said however, the producers are careful to not directly have Annalise identify as one way or the other in order to not lead either audience astray. In light of recent tv shows portraying the LGBT community, this is the producers way of having the best of both worlds. Ultimately, since Annalise does not identify her sexuality it makes the show become relatable to heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual audiences.
Comprehensively, this aligns with what Karen Ross states about sex and the media, “LGBT representations are constrained because they have to appeal to large and largely heterosexual audiences” (Ross 210). Although the show attempts to depict LGBT community through its characters, it fails to do so because the characters perpetuate stereotypes in the bisexual part of the LGBT community. It chooses to openly represent homosexuality while avoiding bisexuality, and portrays a normative account of the LGBT experience.
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The shows producer even stated in an interview, “I really hate the word ‘diversity,’ it suggests something…other. As if it is something…special. Or rare… I have a different word: normalizing. I’m normalizing TV” (Williams). When in fact rather than “normalizing” Annalise’s sexual encounters, it adds to the stigma of society and fails to focus on the actuality of the struggles faced by the LGBT community. Though there are positive representations of the gay and lesbian parts the bisexual aspects fall short, contributing to the overall problem of portraying these characters on television. As stated by Alexandra Bolles, “The studies show that the bisexual community is diverse and subject to discrimination from gay and straight people alike, which negatively impacts the health and social lives of people who identify as bisexual” (Bolles,2012).
- Bolles, A. (2014, March 25). Study Shows Stereotypes about Bisexuality are Harmful. Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/blog/study-shows-stereotypes-about-bisexuality-are-harmful
- “How To Get Away With Murder.” IMDb. IMDB.com, Inc., n.p. Web. 17 June 2018
- Meyer, Michaela D. E. “Representing Bisexuality on Television: The Case for Intersectional Hybrids.” Journal of Bisexuality, 10.4 (2010): 366-387.
- “Quotes For Sam Keating.” IMDb. IMDB.com, Inc., n.p. Web. 10 April 2017.
- Ross, Karen. The Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Media. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.
- San Filippo, Maria. The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television. n.p.: 2013.
- “Something Bad Happened.” How To Get Away With Murder Transcript. Forever Dreaming, 4 March 2016. Web. 17 June 2018.
- Williams, Brennan. “Shonda Rhimes Says She Isn’t ‘Diversifying’ Television, She’s ‘Normalizing’ It — There’s A Difference.” Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 16 March 2015. Web. 17 June 2018.
Critically Queer: A Collection of Queer Media Critiques and Character Analyses: How to Get Away with Being Gay on TV’s Hottest Murder Series: Gay Representation in How To Get Away With Murder. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2019, from http://scalar.usc.edu/works/critically-queer-a-collection-of-queer-media-critiques-and-character-analyses-/how-to-get-away-with-being-gay-on-tvs-hottest-murder-series-gay-representation-in-how-to-get-Jeff Walsh. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://howtogetawaywithmurder.fandom.com/wiki/Jeff_WalshKornhaber, S. (2015, October 28). Why Does Television Still Portray Bisexuals as Being Evil? Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/10/tvs-evil-bisexuals-still-live/412786/
Kornharber, S. (2014, March 25). Study Shows Stereotypes about Bisexuality are Harmful. Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/blog/study-shows-stereotypes-about-bisexuality-are-harmfulWas She Ever Good at Her Job? (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://howtogetawaywithmurder.fandom.com/wiki/Was_She_Ever_Good_at_Her_Job?
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