Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Calling of a ZA Step-Mom

TWD is doing something so important, so crucial for stepmothers and black woman all at the same time.

I am a proud Richonner. I love Rick Grimes and Michonne as individual characters--always have, always will. Yet, I absolutely adore Rick and Michonne as a couple, as lovers. They will forever be the best and greatest OTP ("One True Pairing" for those of you who may not be down with the acronym). Interestingly, this blog post is NOT simply about Rick and Michonne. This is about how the show writers and Danai Gurira, the actress who plays Michonne, have crafted a strong, fierce, bad ass heroine who is WHOLE, well-rounded and nuanced. And, the bonus is that Grimes family 2.0 is doing the right thing for depictions of step-families.

Let's go all the way back to season 3, specifically the episode entitled "Clear." Rick, Carl and Michonne go on a run wherein they have a dangerous encounter with Rick's old friend, Morgan. Carl says he wants to go out to get a crib for his baby sister. He can't go alone. So, Rick opts to stay behind with Morgan and Michonne accompanies Carl.

This is the first time Carl and Michonne have time alone. Unbeknownst to the viewer and Michonne, Carl wants to retrieve a photograph of his deceased mother. However, the place where it is housed is overrun with Walkers making it difficult to retrieve. Desperate (and perhaps short-sighted due to his youth/age), Carl wants to run back inside, which would surely be a death sentence. Carl tries to argue with Michonne, pleading with her that she doesn't understand, etc. Michonne says, "No more bullshit. You wait here. That's how we get it done." And she proposes a plan that entails her being the one to go back in for the photo while Carl stands at the door as a distraction. He cedes to her. The plan works. Carl thanks Michonne as she hands him the photograph and he explains how he wants his sister to be able to see her mother (His mother, Lori, died giving birth to his baby sister, Judith). The pair make it back to Rick and as they're preparing to go back to the prison Rick asks Carl how things went with Michonne. Carl tells his dad that he thinks she's one of them--meaning that she might truly belong to Team Family. Carl trusts Michonne.

I love that this was the beginning of Carchonne (I sorta fancy hybrid ship-names). Their foundation is one of trust, understanding, respect and now love. Even though Carl's plan to retrieve the photograph may have been a bit misguided there was and is great dignity in the reason why he wanted to do it. Michonne saw that. She shut Carl down and asserted her authority as the adult only when she knew that him running into a crowded room of undead was dangerous. But, she assisted him; she helped him. And, she did not judge him nor make him feel stupid. She risked her own life to help this young boy pay respect to his family, and that's when I knew that Michonne would be a fabulous step-mom. She cultivated her OWN relationship with Carl not the other way around--the alternative being that she try and force a "relationship" with Carl simply because she is now romantically interested in his father. There is a natural, organic familial intimacy between Michonne and Carl that has been growing since that moment.

Other examples of this intimacy can be seen in season 4 when Michonne reunites with Rick and Carl after the downfall of the prison. She agrees to co-parent Carl, agrees to be a stable, supportive adult-figure in his life. Michonne knows when Carl is upset and she is also one of FEW people who can make him smile. The two go out on another run together and Michonne ends up confiding in Carl--sharing with him details about her life with which she had never shared with anyone else. The info she relays is tied to pain, grief and loss. Yet, it flows from her quite easily when she's talking to Carl. He receives it and promises to keep her secret safe.

There are many other examples and moments I could include that speak to the depth and strength of Michonne and Carl's relationship (Judith as well), but it's crucial for me to seque into why Michonne's love life makes me giddy. What matters so much in this world is that Michonne is a black woman who ceases to be all the stereotypes that film and television would typically have her be. She's not just the friend. She's not just a fighter. She's not perpetually stoic. She's not an overt caricature of promiscuity. She is simply a woman who has fallen in love, a woman who is allowing herself to be vulnerable and to love AND be loved. Rick Grimes loves Michonne and he loves her well. She deserves this love. Moreover, she supports her man. She strengthens him and builds him up. She fortifies Rick when he's lost and he breaks through her barriers and softens her. Michonne used to look for ALL the answers on her own--wandering by her lonesome--but now she DESIRES to share her journey with Rick. They want to have a way, a path that is truly their own, TOGETHER.

Rick and Michonne got it right. Their relationship in and of itself is beautiful. But, the healthy dynamic shared between Michonne, Carl and Judith stands out. Michonne isn't just the help. She isn't a glorified babysitter. She is a woman giving and receiving love and respect. She has the kid's best interests at heart. She fights for them and protects them. She offers advice and guidance, lacking in all things typical of the pervasive evil step-mom paradigm. Watching the interactions of Rick and Michonne and their step-family gives me hope and insight into my own life, which is an uncanny mirror for that of Grimes 2.0. So, if there's anything that I hope people will take away from some of the themes and characterizations presented in TWD it would be the fact that love conquers and prevails. And, oftentimes, love can come in packages that we haven't imagined for ourselves. Love transcends social constructions, such as race. 

Me and my family at Walker Stalker Con Charlotte, NC 2016

Can you think of any other television shows that have done a good job of portraying step-mom and step-families? Women of color? And, perhaps I'll pursue this in another blog post, I'd like us to think about and TROUBLE the notion of what it truly means to empower women of color in pop culture. It is true that there are more roles for minority actresses, but more roles being offered and more exposure does not guarantee that such roles are nuanced and devoid of stereotypes. This is why I applaud Scott Gimple and Danai Gurira as much as I do.

Also, even though it's difficult for my little Richonne-heart to believe, I acknowledge that many people do not champion Rick and Michonne's romantic relationship. I will not use this blog post to delve into an analysis of why, etc. Yet, I implore everyone to use the depiction of Rick and Michonne's relationship and family as a new, current lens for viewing and reading step-mom, which is the main purpose of my blog.

Let's discuss!