Hernan “Shades” Alvarez and City Councilwoman Mariah Dillard. On paper, these two people shouldn’t even be in the same stratosphere of influence. But in reality, these two go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Perhaps you’ve seen the internet become besides themselves with this new power couple, otherwise known as #ShadyMariah. Heck, even Shades himself, Theo Rossi, is onboard.
I asked some of my followers and #ShadyMariah fans what they thought about the pairing. The reaction was a little more subdued because as we’ve come to know Shades, we’ve come to see just how his self-serving mind works. It could be possible that we don’t know Shades the way we think we do.
Speaking honestly, we really don’t know what the endgame for these two will be. Will one turn on the other? Will it be Uncle Pete in the backyard all over again? There’s a reason they showed that particular scene. Not just because it showed how intense Mama Mabel could be. It also showed how Mama Mabel was frustrated with the fact that she’d opened her heart to a man who ended up betraying her (despite his assertion that he was trying to grow “the family business”). Mariah doesn’t want to end up like Mabel, and we don’t yet know she will. But we do know is this:
1. Mariah has opened her heart to Shades, and Shades was happy to work for it.
It took a lot for Mariah to trust Shades, and she can’t be blamed for that. She’s trying to keep her reputation afloat as well as grow her power and influence. Not to mention she just killed her beloved cousin in a pique of anger. (Killing’s wrong, but she had justified anger, since Cottonmouth blamed Mariah for being molested by Uncle Pete).
At first, she can’t tell if she can trust Shades, but she’s wise enough to know she needs him to get through covering up Cornell’s death. Next, she needed him through what she thought would be a turnover of power. Then, she needed Shades to traverse the madness that is Diamondback. But when Diamondback lies to her about Shades’ death, she realizes that she had come to trust him despite herself. Feeling lost without Shades made her realize that perhaps she had opened herself up to him more than she thought.
Shades managed to worm his way into her heart by being forthright and honest, which is, frankly, the strangest thing to say about a villain. But even still, Shades has been with her every step of the way, and even before Mariah caught a body. Remember when Shades told Mariah, in both blunt and urgent tones, that he wanted her to win and regain the majesty of the Stokes name?
Shades has always been on Mariah’s side, and it could be that he went to Cottonmouth originally because he was hoping the Stokes brand could be revived. When he first saw Mariah, he was looking with thirst (as Mariah herself says), but some of that thirst isn’t white-hot lust; Shades also had the thirst for power at the forefront, and he saw Mariah’s stature and poise as power that could revive a lost name.
2. Shades gave back the champagne bottle, meaning he now has no chips to play when it comes to her.
“We’re in this together now,” he said after giving her back her murder weapon, which was basically him saying, “I’m opening my heart to you. I’m for real.” If he was really about himself alone, he wouldn’t have given Mariah the bottle because, as Mariah said, he could have used it to blackmail her. Why give her the bottle if he has some ulterior motives? Shades is a smart dude, and he should know that giving her that bottle—giving her the power, power she could use over him—would be a less-than-smart thing to do if he had some other bad plan up his sleeve. He’s actually being serious with Mariah; he wants them to be equals.
3. Shades has always been straight-up and, in his own disturbing way, comforting to Mariah
Shades has always had Mariah’s back. He’s always wanted her to succeed. His speeches to Mariah about regaining the Stokes name and how to cover up Cornell’s death are two such examples.
But he’s always gracious to her in other ways, too. As shown in a gif-set on Tumblr, Shades subtly notices Mariah on the roof when he, Tone, and Cottonmouth are discussing what went down at Pop’s.
He’s also the one who looks back to Mariah after Cottonmouth throws Tone off the roof; without saying anything, he’s trying to see how she’s holding up after that shock. However, at this point in time, he can’t say anything; he’s still under both Diamondback and Cottonmouth, and because of Cottonmouth’s influence shielding Mariah from him, Shades hasn’t gained enough permission, for lack of a better word, to openly see about her. What would Cottonmouth do if Shades was the one to ask if Mariah was okay and not him? He’d probably be over the side of the building with Tone.
Shades is also always a gentleman around Mariah, which again, is something odd to say about a literal murdering villain. Shades always holds the door open for Mariah, always does her the courtesy speaking to her with his shades off (making it seem like Mariah is speaking to Hernan, as if Shades is his alter-ego), walks behind her as she goes into action, and is constantly hovering close to her or holding her shoulders in a comforting way. He also doesn’t want her to get her hands dirty (which might mean that he didn’t expect her to kill Cottonmouth, which begs the question of if #ShadyMariah would have even happened if Shades was able to follow through with his plan).
There’s a lot of subtlety about Shades that makes him one of the most intriguing villain characters I’ve seen from Marvel, certainly. But he’s also one of the most intriguing villains I’ve seen on TV period.
Mariah herself is pretty intriguing as a villain. She’s sympathetic and she also represents someone that people might actually vote for in real life. To an engaged voter, she’s laser focused on keeping Harlem out of gentrifying hands, uplifts the city’s black history, and (seems to) care about the people of the city. She’s also gotten stuff done, too; it’s not like she’s just using her platform as a complete ruse. The fact that she actually wants to make Harlem better—whether or not its an altruistic goal, because she does participate in cynical “there are black people and then there are N-words” ideology from time to time—is what makes her the true heir to the legacy of Mama Mabel, who seemed like the woman everyone in Harlem ran to when they had any type of problem. Mariah’s power and her intelligence are what Shades is attracted to.
I’ll end this post on a small discussion of the Basquiat painting Mariah had hung in Cottonmouth’s former office. We saw in the beginning that Cottonmouth considered him the king in a hip-hop way; he wanted to run things like how Biggie rapped, hence the Biggie photo. Like some of gangster rap (maybe particularly Biggie’s brand of east coast rap), Cottonmouth is blunt, to the point, unpredictable, and hardcore. However, bluntness isn’t what’s going to keep Harlem under the Stokes iron grip.
Mariah, however, represents everything she and Shades could be together all in one picture. I’ll quote Reddit user Emerson73:
The painting however is a piece called “Red Kings” painted in 1981 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was a black artist that died to young and spent a good amount of his short time in association with Andy Warhol. This piece is understood as his personal proclamation or claim to the throne. The ‘king’ on the left being him as he placed the main letters of his name in the open parts of the face and the ‘king’ the right being [Picasso]. He saw himself as stepping up to be on [Picasso]’s level of greatness and a king in the art world. I think many people would agree that even in his short time he did step up to a very high level in the art world and maybe would have gone further if he hadn’t died younger.
I think this painting works great as a replacement of the Biggie photo. In the quick subtlety of it being hung up in the background the audience is left without question that we are supposed to perceive the ending of Maria and Shades’ arcs as stepping up to supplant Cottonmouth and Diamondback as royalty of the illegal trades in Harlem and surrounding areas. It is also another place of fitting in an important part of black history and cultural relevance into the show and even pushing Maria’s original sentiment of ‘keep Harlem black’ by supporting the continuation of black culture as important.
Maybe there could be several more things read into these topics and i’m sure their story doesn’t end here. Maybe one or both will die sooner than they planned just as Basquiat did. But the main thing for me is that an addition to the show like that makes me even more sure that this material is in the right hands at Marvel.
In short, everything about #ShadyMariah is coming together nicely and maybe, just maybe, there won’t be an “Uncle Pete in the backyard” situation again. Since Shades seems like he’s completely into Mariah, we just might have our first Queen and Consort of Marvel Villainy. In that respect, Mariah doesn’t have to worry about ever becoming Mama Mabel.
The cherry on the evil sundae? #ShadyMariah actually has a theme written into Luke Cage! If you’ve got the soundtrack, it’s “Bad Love,” which plays right after Shades talks her through framing Luke for Cottonmouth’s murder in Episode 7 (listen immediately after Shades fixes Mariah’s hair for her).
What do you think about #ShadyMariah? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Hip hop hooray, Richonne (Rick and Michonne) is now officially canon in The Walking Dead! And, as luck would have it, such a development has happened in one of the most hallowed of months, Black History Month. This didn’t go unnoticed by many on Twitter:
— Film Fatale NYC (@FilmFatale_NYC) February 22, 2016
— Reagan Gomez (@ReaganGomez) February 22, 2016
So why is this the Black History Month gift we didn’t know we were going to get? Three reasons:
1. Finally, the truth is acknowledged
Richonne has been a long time coming. Probably too long, according to some fans. The purpose was for the slow build, but with that slow build came dull love interests for Rick. Finally, Rick has figured out that he needs to be with Michonne, someone who is at his caliber of zombie-killing as well as a viable, intelligent leader.
— ⭐unicorn haven⭐ (@RaVEns_mERe) February 17, 2016
— Richonne News (@RichonneNews) February 22, 2016
— Jenny (@OnPointe82) February 22, 2016
2. Richonne made racists mad
Now, let’s just say for the record that #notallRichonnehaters are racists. Some just genuinely don’t like it, and that’s cool. However, some don’t like Richonne (or The Flash‘s WestAllen or Sleepy Hollow‘s Ichabbie) purely for the reason that it’s a white man with a black woman.
I’ve written before about the multiple viewpoints surrounding black woman/white man interracial relationships on television (and an article outlining more viewpoints around interracial fetishism is in this month’s issue of COLORBLOCK Magazine). But overall, a relationship like Richonne is progress. For example, Richonne shows that:
- The Walking Dead reflects its audience. Sure, the show still has a problem with killing off black guys. But at the very least, the inclusion of Rick and Michonne’s relationship (along with Glenn and Maggie) represents a large quantity of the audience (and America in general) who are in interracial relationships. They want to see themselves represented on screen, and what better power couple is there than Richonne?
- Michonne is treated as any other woman on The Walking Dead. That is to say, she’s treated like a love interest. More detail on this later in the post.
- Most audience members want to see diversity in all forms, including in their love stories. For the longest, The Walking Dead‘s only interracial love story has been Glenn and Maggie. For them to be the only ones out of all of the characters that have been on The Walking Dead (well, the only ones that are still alive, anyways) is quite astounding and, demographically speaking, doesn’t make sense. Richonne adds some much-needed diverse realism to the proceedings.
But, despite all of the positives that Richonne have going for it, there are some folks in the fandom who are pissed because Michonne is a black woman. There’s still a color barrier when it comes to relationships on television, and that color barrier seems to get even tougher in genre television. But Richonne has helped break that barrier, and those who are mad about it for the wrong reasons can fall back.
When Haters said “Rick should grieve for Jessie. too soon 4 Richonne happen” Hell IDIOT! #Richonne bonded far deeper than Jessick.
— DamonLilWitch (@NickNameYet) February 22, 2016
the haters aint about to ruin this night for me. they can cry their eyes out and have several seats while they’re at it #Richonne
— Beyonseoul (@MimieZaforas) February 22, 2016
|Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!|
• Black women are shown to be viable love interests for the white male lead
Black women have had a history of either being desexualized or hypersexualized, and both depictions act as reasons why they aren’t seen as viable love interests for the main character, especially if that main character is a white man. For example:
- Julia Baker from the 1970s show Julia is an example I use a lot for everything, but the character is perplexing in how chaste she is. First, it’s written that her husband was killed in the Vietnam War; writing out the husband and portraying a black family without a two-parent household is an issue in itself, but Julia herself is portrayed as being the perfect black woman, a woman who is “clear” enough in attitude and personality that she can be accepted by her white neighbors, but in order to stay outwardly virtuous, she must remain unwed. She’s a symbol of black respectability rather than just being a multifaceted black woman. Diahann Carroll herself, who played Julia, called her character a “white Negro” with little to do with the black experience.
- Grantchester featured a troubling storyline in one of its episodes. The episode featured an American jazz group that was touring England, and the jazz singer, Gloria Dee, falls in love with Sidney and sleeps with him. However, the next day, Sidney comes to regret the decision, since he only slept with her to forget about the love he had for his best friend, Amanda, who was marrying a rich jerk. Gloria’s heartbreak is touched upon, but it’s also portrayed as if heartbreak for her is par for the course. She was also depicted as being a stereotype of a black woman jazz singer; every line was hilariously cartoonish, her voice had a Mae West lilt, and her persona was that of the “bad girl.” Sidney’s disgust with himself for sleeping with Gloria gets so bad that he throws out his jazz records; while his character was throwing them out because it reminded him of his personal and moral transgressions (he’s not one to just sleep with anyone), the act could also be interpreted as him believing that jazz (a black medium) and the singer herself led him astray, not his own actions.
- Michonne herself has been touted by some as a “strong black woman,” even though such a stereotype-laden description strips her of her roundedness as a character. There are pockets of people who feel that, in order for the show to have a feminist angle, Michonne should stay the silent warrior. But these demands aren’t placed on other women (usually white women), like Carol (who is just as deadly with weapons as Michonne) or Maggie (who is, as has been written earlier in this post, in a relationship).
The reason for this distaste and exoticism of black women has its roots in the slave trade. As Paula Byrne wrote in her book about the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, many sailors and sea captains would rape African women and girls on the ship, later claiming that black females’ supposed hypersexuality made them do it (instead of taking responsibility for a lack of morality). The myth of hypersexuality continued throughout slavery, with white plantation owners blaming their victims for their own sexual abuse. Slave owners also helped with desexualization (and a slave’s further removal from personhood) by employing slaves as caretakers, which led to the “Mammy” stereotype. Today, the remnants of both stereotypes make it hard for black women characters, and black actresses, to exist in a fully realized way. Either black characters are “tough” (desexualized), a “Mammy” or caretaker (“desexualized”) or they are a Jezebel (hypersexualized). Hardly ever have they been portrayed as human beings.
The feeling of bias towards black women in television, especially when it comes to black women characters possibly being the love interest for white male characters, also has antebellum roots. One of the many excuses for slavery was that it kept black men in line and kept their “prey,” white women, safe. Black women were also seen as threats, but the threat was based on a black woman gaining the same rights and status as a white woman. White women during this time benefited from this white supremacist view by being uplifted as genteel prizes.
White supremacy is a dirty word today, but white women characters (and actresses, to a certain extent) are still lifted above other characters (and actresses) for no reason other than race. The fear of a black woman “stealing” a white man, especially the white male character, still holds true for some viewers of The Walking Dead, Sleepy Hollow, The Flash and other shows that have a black female lead who shows interest in the white male lead. Because of unresolved historical issues, which has led to us seeing mostly white men/white women pairings in the first place, a black woman character with a white male lead might seem to some as a black woman not knowing her station. If Michonne wasn’t who she is, there wouldn’t be any problem.
Sharon, a guest post writer for Black Girl Nerds, summed it up succinctly:
Here’s what it comes down to: if Michonne weren’t a dark-skinned black woman, many of the people who were so surprised by Richonne would have expected it a long time ago. Were it a white actress (the kind we’re used to seeing as love interests on TV and in movies) playing the role of Michonne, sharing intimate scenes with Rick, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have been a case of if Rick and Michonne get together, but when.”
The thought that white goes with white and black goes with black is dying, thanks to the rise of black-white interracial relationships. But television still shows that pockets of this ideology is still alive and well. There are still moments when the media decides to portray black women as objects or obstacles instead of people. But thankfully, Richonne isn’t one of those moments. Richonne does the opposite; it turns the trope of the “strong black woman” on its head. Not only can a black woman be strong and kickass, but she can also be nurturing (like how Michonne is to Carl) and woman worthy of love. Basically, a black woman can be a human being.
As Rick himself, Andrew Lincoln, told TV Line:
“When we [shot it], we wanted it to have a feeling like these two great friends just looked at each other and realized, “Of course.” It was natural…and Michonne has been a mother figure and best friend to Carl for so long. And she saved Rick’s life and Carl’s life on countless occasions. There’s something rather moving about these two warriors getting together.”
So there you have it.
What do you think of Richonne? Give your opinions in the comments section below!