Why American Horror Story: Cult's Version Of An Angry Black Woman Works (& Doesn't)

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
I called it. When inceptor Ryan Murphy created a comical caricature of white feminism with Sarah Paulson’s character, Ally, I had a feeling that there was going to be a Black counterpart. Because American Horror Story: Cult is all about neatly categorizing some of the most visibly politicized camps in the wake of the 2016 election, I expected his version of a radicalized Black Lives Matter activist. In episode 4, what we have instead is an angry Black woman in the form of Beverly Holt (Adina Porter). Where Ally’s politics and experiences with the rest of the world are played up as extreme, Beverly’s rage is her defining characteristic even though the circumstances of her life warrant at least a lit bit of anger. In this way, the trope portrayed by Porter both succeeds and fails in its intentions.
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Beverly has appeared in every episode of AHS: Cult as a local news reporter in the county of Michigan where the action takes place. Her work life has been plagued with a series of hurdles, many of which are out of her control. Her colleague and obvious competitor Serena (Emma Roberts) is having a pretty public sexual relationship with lead anchor Bob (Dermot Mulroney), which has meant better stories and working conditions for her. She is committed to reporting real news and is disillusioned by the network, whose primary concern is ratings. She is keenly aware of her role as a tokenized minority, but Bob also makes it clear that she can be easily replaced.
Earlier this year, #BlackWomenAtWork went viral to address racial macro and micro aggressions that Black women face in the workplace. It illuminated the ways in which Black women are often left behind, disrespected, and not taken as seriously as their white colleagues. This is clearly the case with Beverly, who has put in a lot of work at the news station while Serena was able to sleep her way to the top without any remorse, guilt, or shame. Beverly doesn’t elicit the same chuckles that Ally does because she represents a history of intersectional disenfranchisement, not a strong opinion against a political candidate.
That Beverly is a Black woman angry about the ways in which systems of oppression work against her is understandable. However, because Murphy is just as concerned with how specific groups are perceived by everyone else and infused that into the Cult characters, this anger has been taken to extremes. After being interrupted by “grab her by the pussy” pranksters for weeks, Beverly snapped and beat one of them with her microphone. It led to her admittance to a psychiatric facility. And after Serena and Bob blow her off, she slashes one of their tires in the parking lot. At dinner she talks about her rage being so strong that it makes her want to be the last person on earth so she can watch everyone else die.
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It's here that Murphy’s trope suddenly falls flat. In the real world, Black women are not allowed to express the anger that Beverly has with such minimal consequences. Beating up that teenager would have landed her in jail, not a psych ward. And she can forget still having a job after. Black women are the group most likely to experience violence, not dish it out. But that doesn’t stop the world from viewing us as dangerous. That Kai, a white dude, acts as a proxy for Beverly to lean into her anger reinforces the idea that, given the right circumstances, that danger will be realized.
I’m still not ruling out the possibility of Murphy conceiving a radicalized Black Lives Matter activist for a future episode, but if Beverly is any indicator, I can already guess how they will be portrayed.