Hypothetically speaking – because we are talking about a fictional character – there is lots to admire or like about the Olivia Pope character:
Firstly, she is a cute black girl. And by that I mean, she is petite and thin; her suit game is on point; and her hair is tossed to death. And secondly, she is a cute black girl with lots of power and access. This makes Pope quite a powerful and alluring fantasy in world where the average black women’s real-life social, political and economic standing are not deemed as heroic. However I do wonder if we are missing what really makes the Olivia Pope character such a transformable television figure.
Although black characters are clearly present on the series, “Scandal” rarely addresses race at all. And in fact, the only time the Olivia Pope character’s ethnicity or gender were even broached was when she confronted her love interest, President Grant, referring to herself as Sally Hemmings. If I was a betting person, I would wager that Rhimes is going out of her way to create a post-racial society where everyone has an equal opportunity to be…well, scandalous.
Or as Brandon Maxwell of the FeministWire wrote recently:
“While this is the drama’s claim, a closer examination reveals that Scandal actually centers on the seemingly salvific protagonist of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy* and the lengths to which all people – women and men, black/brown and white, gay and straight, etc. – will go to preserve it.”
That’s pretty much the best analysis of show I’ve read. The whole claiming Olivia Pope as a role model, based solely upon her her position and status in the world, never made sense to me. Even Rhimes said as much when she got with Star Jones for questioning the morals of the Pope character and said, “…because this show is not a fairy tale & Olivia is not a role model.” However I always thought that the Olivia Pope-role model question was a stand in for the real question of whether or not Shonda Rhimes is doing her due-diligence to represent black people positively.
There is no doubt that Rhimes, a black woman, has managed to reach certain heights of success on a major network that few before her have been able to do. But understand that there has been a growing sentiment about Rhimes overall representation of black relationships on screen. More specifically, why are there so little of them? To be honest, “Scandal” is the first Rhimes-produced series I have ever engaged in so I can’t speak to the state of black relationships on all of her shows. However, I have paid attention to the Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson jokes about “Scandal” made by black men and women alike. And even I have to admit that it does seem odd that the only relationships Pope has seriously contemplated, involved white men. Okay there was Senator Edward Davis. However you have to admit that he was kind of a throwback to the days of Billie Dee William and Colt 45 era, so you can’t blame our girl Pope for passing on that. But what’s wrong with Harrison? Hell, I would certainly do him. And the mere fact that Rhimes has this fine brother around equally fine Pope and nothing has popped off between the two, definitely raises an eyebrow.
Also a YouTube blogger noted similar dysfunctional intra-racial relationship among black folks is also a common theme in Rhimes’ previously series, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice”: “She [Shonda Rhimes] makes it a point of showing black couples, who don’t work; black couples, who hate each other; and the answer to either the black male and black woman is to run into the arms a white person, ’cause that works better.”
Understandably, when our image has been constantly distorted, misrepresented and criminalized in the media, we have become protective. However this has also been a hindrance cinematically as some black directors might be less inclined to take chances out of fear of failing to represent the race positively and/or correctly and turning off black audiences. Again, I’m not privy to all of Rhimes catalog of work however I think that this might be the case for “Scandal” at least. Overall, what Rhimes has created is a rainbow coalition of characters, who on the regular, engage in some pretty despicable things. Things like murder; election-rigging; kidnapping; terrorism; baby stealing; etc…probably were more motivated by personal gain than they by their races, genders and sexual orientation of any of these characters. If anything the show is pretty jaded about people as whole as opposed to one group, specifically.
If Rhimes were using her television platforms to demean black relationships, I think in terms of “Scandal,” you would also have to acknowledge that she is doing a really piss poor job of trying to sell us on the idea of a white savior. Outside of being sort of adulterous (side note: is it adulterous if the wife consents?) with a self-involved white Republican president, who drinks a lot and has tons of extra-marital affairs (one of which led to the killing of a pregnant woman), the Pope character is currently hooking up with another white guy, who has secretly been spying on her. I’m sorry but there is nothing endearing about either one of these white knights.
So in that regard, you have to give Rhimes credit for not just writing black and other subjugated characters but writing characters in such a way where their moral and ethical choices are much more important than their race, gender and sexual orientation. You know, how it is supposed to be?