Critique of ABC’s primetime series, Scandal
Written by SpriritHouse and Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Fellow, Dean Steed
A variety of communities, including the Black community, continue to praise the American Broadcasting Channel’s (ABC) latest prime-time television series, Scandal. They celebrate it for being the first one-hour dramatic network television series produced and written by a Black woman (Rhonda Shimes) for an African American woman lead. Among such shows as Basketball Wives, Housewives of Atlanta, and Love and Hip Hop, capitalizing upon the racist mythologies of Black women as Sapphires and Jezebels, Scandal appeared as the beginning or genesis of a new Black woman who does not fit into these stereotypes. Scandal, presents the leading character, Olivia Pope, as an intelligent, independent, and resourceful Black woman. However, contrary to this representation, Olivia is not a new Black woman, Olivia is the quintessential Mammy, Jezebel, and Tragic Mulatto, wrapped into one. As a Mammy figure, she cleans up the messes of White men, covers their flaws, and protects their interests, while overlooking the needs of her own community. Essentially, her work is in the big house. Not only do White men see her as the Mammy, for them she is the tragic Mulatto and Jezebel. With her mulatto-like acceptability, she allows them to think White, while sleeping Black.
John Mayer, a White folk artist, reflects this attitude, when he states in Playboy magazine interview, that he possesses a “white supremacist ‘d–k” and that he would deviate from this and sleep with Kerry Washington, a black woman, because she is “super hot, white girl crazy, and would break your heart like a white girl.”
Although the series presents Olivia as a new woman, the center of gravity remains the same. The real scandal is that we accept the interracial love affair of Olivia Pope and the Republican president without recognizing that the image of Powerful White men, who sexually use Black women, is not new or liberating. It has it’s roots in a racist history that extends back to enslavement.
Olivia is the mistress and not the legitimate heir to the power and status of her White lover. Olivia’s position as mistress, echoes Sally Hemming’s affair with Thomas Jefferson. In season one, Olivia Pope engages in a heated argument with Fitzgerald Grant, over their torrid affair in which she likens their relationship to that of Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemming. Although Olivia draws on the example of Sally Hemming, she acts if her relationship with the President exists without a history or context. In other words, in a racialized society, the relationship is stripped of any racial meaning.
Despite the fact that many in the audience view Scandal as a groundbreaking series for it’s position in history as the first primetime series to be written and produced by a Black woman to feature and an African American woman as the lead, the show remains profoundly silent on the issue of race. It ignores that racism and White Supremacy are core values and organizing tools of the Republican party. In reality, members of the Republican party exploit and mobilize White resentment towards the gains that we achieved in the 1960s and 70s, viewing these gains as a loss of White power. Building on this resentment, the Republican party strategically uses codified language, distorted images, and a rhetoric of colorblind post-racialism to cover their racist assaults against our community.
The real scandal is that Olivia Pope, helps these men manipulate the public and to promote an anti-black agenda.
As I became further involved in the series, watching episode after episode, season after season, I slowly became increasingly aware of the incredible deception of the the producers who present the Republican party as supportive of democratic values while using a Black face to encourage the support of a Black audience.
In the first season, we witness Republican President, Fitzgerald Grant and his administration lobbying for the passage of the DREAM Act, a bill providing amnesty for young undocumented residents in the U.S and the support of immigration. In reality, the Republican party vehemently opposed the DREAM Act, executed under President, Barack Obama.
In 2011, Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney voiced his opposition to the DREAM Act, vowing to veto it, if elected.
Another prevalent deception in this series is the representation of the Republican party as supportive and accepting of LGBT rights. This is exemplified through the show’s representation of the Republican administration as supportive of the openly gay Chief of Staff, Cyrus. Scandal, presents Cyrus as an out gay Republican who is married to a young, male journalist.
In reality, the Republican party is very vocal in its opposition to gay rights and has strongly advocated against same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and the existence of gay men and women in the military. It was the Democratic President, Barack Obama who repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” along with vocalizing his support of same sex marriage.
Scandal is inspired by the life of co-producer and writer Judy Smith, Washington’s D.C’s crisis management expert and former Deputy Press Secretary and Public Relations consultant to the George H.W. Bush administration.
Judy Smith involved herself in the Clarence Thomas saga, when she provided her services to clear his image during Anita Hill’s charge of sexual harassment.
Judy Smith and actress Kerry Washington, (cast in the role of Olivia Pope) together lend a Black face to a party that builds its platform upon the continued oppression of all people of color.
The real scandal is that we know this and yet we allow this to invade our living room week after week.
(In my next article, I will reveal the ways in which Scandal mask the racist deeds of the Republican party)
Writer, Dean Steed, is the Lead Educator and Youth Organzinger at the Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Institute and Senior at Georgia State University, majoring in African American studies.
|JONATHAN DANIELS & SAMUEL YOUNGE INSTITUTE
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