How To Get Away With Murder (HTGAWM) is the Thursday night behemoth that has kept us enthralled since its premiere last year. From the very first utterance of “Criminal Law 101, that I like to call How to get away with murder” by Analise Keating, best known as Viola Davis and those dark, cheerleader- spinning in the air, bonfire flashbacks we have been hooked. Last night’s episode, “Mama’s Here Now” was no exception, as it slowly reached through the screen, grabbed us forcibly and is still holding on to some of us this morning.
In a scene fairly early in the episode, Analise is in bed wrapped in a blanket of emotional numbness. Her husband is dead, his sister has finally left along with her accusations that Analise is her brother’s murderer and she just lead the quiet coup that ended in her desired outcome; her lover, Officer Nate being arrested for killing Sam. In walks the incomparable Cicely Tyson in her role as Mrs. Keating’s mother Ophelia, with her smart wit and lightning quick tongue lashing that immediately reminded so many black women watching last night of our own mothers or grandmothers. Mama was there to “fix it”. She did not have time for weakness or tears. She could not be bothered with blankets stitched out of guilt and the feeling of worthlessness Analise was draped in. Ms. Ophelia came to pull her baby up and out.
In scenes that were riveting, some of Anna Mae’s background that formed her into Analise are revealed. She like so many of us did not feel love from our mothers. Not solely because they did not offer that emotion to us. But, due to fact some of our mothers could only love us in the way they knew how. Which did not always present itself in the form that we needed. It is common place now to see a meme or social media post that either praises or degrades black women for being “independent”. The syndrome of, “I don’t need anything from anybody” does not automatically come from a place of defiance. Many times it comes from the generational lesson of perceived strength…of survival.
We learn that Anna Mae changed her name for survival. She clung to her therapist turned husband, who used his knowledge gained from being the professional who was supposed to be Anna Mae’s soft place to fall. Yet, he hurled those wounds into her face when it best served him…for survival. We learned that Anna Mae was sexually abused by Uncle Clyde and because her mother did not react in a way that would sooth the heart-break of an innocent little girl, she made up in her mind that her mother did nothing to protect her from the beast. Again, for survival.
Ophelia talks to her daughter about men always taking. “Men were put on this planet to take things. They take your money, they take your land, they take a woman, and any other thing they can put their grabby hands on. That’s men.” She explained to Anna Mae how men; Aunt Lynn’s first grade teacher took from her and how Reverend Daniels took from her after choir rehearsal. “Men take things. They’ve been taking things from women since the beginning of time.”
Because I live tweet HTGAWM, the wall on Twitter exploded with women and some men being hit directly in the chest with the force of a max truck, by that scene. The same generational lesson that taught us about expressing love in our communities is the same lesson that taught us to be quiet about sexual abuse inside of our families. Even if black children were brave enough to tell their mothers/fathers about the abuse that generational pull taught us to never speak about it again, that Uncle or Aunt So and So will still be at every family function, that our feelings of gut wrenching pain must be swallowed.
For a couple of hours last night, Twitter allowed some of us to become a family, a virtual therapy session if you will, as so many women expressed in 140 characters or less how they were forced into silence, self-doubt and feelings of having no real value due to sexual abuse inside of their families. Those tweets proved this particular family history of silence about sexual abuse is still an epidemic in our communities. Of all the thousands of tweets in solidarity and understanding last night, how many of us watched that scene and wept, yet were still too ashamed and frightened to tweet out a single word because we did not want the sigma to be placed on us through sad eye emoticons and the magnifying lens that would then be placed on our parents?
Near the end of the episode, Analise sat between her mama’s legs as Ophelia showed love to her daughter in the way she knew how; scratching her scalp. (For those not in the know, this simple act is an expression of love in the black community. It is not just about combing hair.) She told Analise that she saw Uncle Clyde coming out of her room late that night and knew what he had done. On another night, Clyde was drunk as usual and fell asleep on the sofa with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Ophelia sent Analise and her siblings to an Aunt’s house to sleep, subsequently as their own house burned down with old Clyde in it. Victim of a long match and very flammable hooch.
Mama did in fact avenge her baby and never said a word about it…for survival.