Today’s New York Times ran an article by Felicia R. Lee about Kerry Washington’s role as Olivia Pope in the ABC television series Scandal. Through much of the article Lee wrote about how Washington’s portrayal of Pope impacts the often vile (or absent) image of black women in the media. She noted that Washington is only the second black woman to lead a hit network television series (Diahann Carroll in Julia came before her).
When it comes to images of minorities in Hollywood, in this case black women, I always say “Absence has just as much influence as presence, perhaps more.” What I mean by this is, the images we don’t see affect us just as much as the ones we do. Now, I will go on the record as saying I’m a fan of Scandal (I’m in front of the TV at 10pm every Thursday) and Kerry Washington (love it when she’s on Real Time with Bill Mahr!).
However to call her character a triumph and somehow different from other images of black women is…not inaccurate…but perhaps a reach…Take this quote from the article from a professor at Drexel University (for example):
“We’re putting a lot of our hopes on Kerry’s shoulders,” said Yaba Blay, an assistant professor of Africana Studies at Drexel University, who live-tweets about the show with a group of female academics. “The conversations about her go beyond the role, to the idea of representing us well as middle-class and upper middle-class, educated women,” mostly because of the scarcity of such images of black women.
“We are the same women the media has said are not attractive, are not marriageable,” she added.
But she’s not marriageable. She fits the bill of upper middle class, educated, successful, strong SINGLE BLACK FEMALE. She was the President’s mistress, not his wife, and the only other two men who have tried to step to her on the show both had ulterior motives. So is she throwing wine glasses at another woman’s head, or in line receiving welfare benefits, or taking care of someone else’s children? No. But is she all that different? I’m not so sure. She seems to be just another example of women not being able to have it all (have we met anyone in Olivia Pope’s family?).
Though, maybe the triumph is that I don’t care. I’m going to watch this disastrous affair and political melee play out until Shonda Rhimes is fresh out of ideas. What I did like about the article is the concluding quote from Ms. Washington. It’s very clear that she is passionate about her craft, and anyone who has performed on stage and had this moment will totally get it:
“Ms. Washington insisted, laughing, that she has not plotted out her career. She seems happy just to be an actor, fulfilling an old dream. At Spence, she recalled, after finishing Ophelia’s mad scene during a student production of “Hamlet,” catching a glimpse of her no-nonsense mother weeping in the audience.
“I thought ‘Wow,’ ” Ms. Washington said. “This woman who held me in her womb for nine months — and knows exactly who I am — for a moment something about this world allowed her to suspend her disbelief and believe I was some other person in some other time.
“I thought, ‘this is powerful.’ ””