Editor’s Note: This piece contains episode spoilers.
The Walking Dead aired an episode two weeks ago called, “The Next Worldd,” where an unlikely couple got together, leaving fans with mixed feelings.
Rick Grimes, the white male lead protagonist, hooked up with Michonne, a black female main character.
The episode begins with Michonne asking to borrow toothpaste from Rick.
Michonne stands at the door of Rick’s room with a towel around her head, Rick is buttoning up his shirt, and Judith, Rick’s daughter, is sitting on the floor playing with a red cup. It’s the picture of an average family on any given morning.
Michonne and Rick don’t consummate their relationship until the end of the episode when Rick reveals he could not find any toothpaste so he got her mints instead. As he hands her the mints and their hands linger in one another’s, they make eye contact and go in for the long overdue kiss.
What Tumblr has rooted for and fantasized about since the two first met at the end of season two was finally a reality. The internet rejoiced and awarded the new couple with their new nickname “Richonne,” but it wasn’t long before the positive responses were drowned out by “fans” objecting to the budding romance.
Interracial relationships in mainstream entertainment tend to be rare. However, as I read the tweets and Tumblr posts condemning Richonne, I realized the controversy went deeper than the characters’ races.
A few anti-Richonne “fans” tried to justify their dislike by asserting that Rick and Michonne’s romance did not follow the storyline of the comic books that inspire the show’s plotline. Most anti-Richonne “fans” however, just did not see Michonne as the right romantic partner for Rick and preferred the two to stay just friends.
The comments on this Hollywood Reporter article are cringe worthy and they are all singing the same tune: Michonne is not attractive enough to be Rick’s love interest.
Danai Gurira, the actress who plays Michonne, can be described as a dark skinned black woman, with full lips, a wide nose and a lean athletic body. According to Hollywood’s unrealistic, unattainable and Eurocentric beauty standards for leading ladies, Gurira does not make the cut.
The negative response to Richonne based on Gurira’s appearance drew my attention to other interracial couples on TV right now and I realized why these interracial couples were “palatable” for viewers.
The trend of casting leading ladies and romantic interests for leading male characters has been the same since the beginning of cinematic history: a gorgeous white girl. And if a minority was cast as the female interest, it was because she was “white-looking” enough meaning she looked mixed race or racially ambiguous.
In The Flash, the protagonist Barry Allen, a white male, has a love interest, Iris West played by Candice Patton; a light skinned black woman with traditionally European features.
In Daredevil, the love interest of the white male protagonist is Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson, also a pretty light-skinned black woman.
Even when the roles are reversed and the male character is a minority, the female love interests still fall within the European beauty category.
In Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Jessica’s love interests, is played by Mike Colter, a tall, dark, muscular black man.
Most Americans do not still consider interracial relationships taboo but there is this unspoken rule that black women without European features are seen as not romantic enough or don’t exert enough sexuality. Not even when they are paired with black men.
For example, Will Smith’s romantic interests in movies goes as follows: Eva Mendes, Charlize Theron, Salma Hayek, Sophie Okonedo, Margot Robbie and (again) Rosario Dawson, just to name a few. All these women are either white, mixed, or Latina.
Maybe the favoring of Eurocentric beauty standards would go unnoticed if the internet didn’t lose its mind when dark black women are portrayed in romantic, sensual ways.
The last time the internet was repulsed by a black female body was in the premier of How To Get Away With Murder when Annalise Keating, played by Viola Davis, was caught having sexual relations with a man that wasn’t her husband.
During an episode of The Hollywood Reporter Davis said: “I had no precedent for this role. I had never seen a 49-year-old, dark skinned black, who wasn’t a size two be a sexualized role in TV, film, anywhere, ever.”
She goes on to say: “When I first saw myself in the pilot episode I was mortified, I’m just gonna be honest. And then my big ‘ah ha!’ moment was this is your opportunity to not type cast yourself. To actually play a woman, who is sexualized, and woman up! And put a real woman on TV that’s smack-dab in the middle of this pop fiction.”
In an article by Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times, Davis was described as “less classically beautiful” and “slightly menacing.”
This is the same rhetoric of anti-Richonne “fans”; Michonne is too tough. She’s a strong black woman who doesn’t need a relationship. Being loved and vulnerable are not a privilege awarded to black female characters.
The change in the Rick and Michonne’s relationship left “fans” hoping it was just a one night stand, but last Sunday’s episode demolished all those ill-wishes with just three words: this is different.
Michonne has been the best mother for Carl and Judith and the best survival partner for Rick. Without even knowing it they had built a family together before the romance.
Honestly, I have shipped Richonne since day one, and I was shocked when AMC made the bold leap. They have been building up to this moment and a strong foundation of friendship between Richonne means they are here to stay, stereotypical Hollywood standards or not.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s flickr account.
Marie Helene Ngom is a graduate of UMBC and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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