"How To Get Away With Murder" is shattering barriers for women, minority, and LGBTQ representation in mainstream media. Groups that are typically shoved into ensemble roles (or in many cases, not even on the screen at all) finally have an outlet where they can show their expertise as actors, capable of keeping viewers hooked.
Created by Peter Nowalk and produced by Shonda Rhimes, "How to Get Away with Murder" captivated audiences all across the nation when it premiered last fall. Reviews are largely positive, averaging about 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the critical consensus from the same website reported, that it “delivers thrills with melodramatic twists and a captivating lead.”
In less than two years, 20 different award ceremonies have honored the cast and crew with nominations and wins, including a GLAAD award for Outstanding Drama Series, three NAACP Image Awards, and a People’s Choice Award and Golden Globe nomination for Viola Davis in particular.
In addition, it even gave Davis a platform to become the first African American woman to win an Emmy for Best Leading Actress in a Drama Series. But why is "How to Get Away with Murder," known among its fans as HTGAWM so popular? And what does it tell us about audiences watching it?
“Over the course of its first season, HTGAWM has pummeled boundaries when it comes to how diversity, especially in sexual orientation and race, is portrayed on TV—the effects of which we can’t even start to measure now,” reported The Daily Beast in February. “No broadcast television series is doing more for diversity in prime time than this one.”
Annalise Keating, portrayed by Viola Davis on the show, is a tough-love law professor and the head of her own firm, who has chosen five students to help her with cases outside the classroom. While they try and solve other people’s cases, they get caught up in their own web of romance, bloodshed, and deceit. It’s a tangled network with uncertainty and the twists and turns are just as unexpected for the audience as they are for the characters.
Not only does the show feature a racially diverse cast, "How to Get Away with Murder" also explores sexuality in a far more fluid and nuanced way than other shows. Keating has relations with her white husband, her black, male lover, and a white woman.
A bisexual character on a show is rare; a bisexual lead character on a show is almost unheard of. GLAAD, The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media monitoring organization founded by LGBTQ people in media, released its “Where We are on TV” report for 2014 and said that out of 813 primetime broadcast series, 3.9% of the series regulars will be LGBTQ.
"How to Get Away with Murder" has two gay leads, a bisexual woman lead, a lesbian reoccurring character, and that doesn’t even include the diverse cast of supporting characters.
Audiences are tired of the straight, white hegemony, and want shows that reflect the issues of today: representation of minorities as whole characters rather than stereotypes, and LGBTQ representations that treat characters with the same sexual freedom and visibility as straight characters.
"How to Get Away with Murder" is changing television and reinventing who we see as prime time leads.