I became a Scandal fan midway through the first season, when creator Shonda Rhimes was still building a case for the lip quivering, alpha female who had captivated the leader of the free world’s heart. It was hard to conceive how a team of people, deemed “Gladiators” could be so devoted to this steely woman who could break you down in a fast-paced monologue, while donned in an exquisitely tailored pantsuit. To top it all off, this woman just happened to be Black.
As the show gained popularity, Kerry Washington, its leading star, has catapulted to a new level of fame. Washington has been heralded as the first African-American female lead in a network drama in over 40 years. In recent months the actress has graced the covers of Glamour, Essence, People and Lucky Magazine. She’s sat down with Oprah and hosted SNL. However, despite all the excitement surrounding a popular show led by a Black woman, Shonda Rhimes seems to have left Olivia Pope’s race as an afterthought.
Rhimes’ sensationalized post-racial America is centered on sex, power, deceit, and of course, scandal. Yet in a world where presidential elections are rigged and pristine repuatations can be annihilated with the stroke of a keyboard, race seems to be a non-factor. I could count on one hand, the amount of times Olivia’s ethnicity has been mentioned, in the show’s two and a half seasons.
Race. We make it a big deal but within the context of Scandal, Shonda Rhimes does not. It’s not often that viewers can watch African American actors on the small screen without “color vision.” Rhimes manages to steer clear of stereotypes to create a new role for Black women.
Ironically, this crisis manager’s personal life is hanging by a thread. Until this season, we knew very little about Ms. Pope, besides her on and off torrid affair with President Grant (aka Fitz). With the big reveal of her father, and more recently her double agent mother, Olivia’s character has become even more complex. Yet even as we question her morality, we root for her.
Cheers to Shonda Rhimes, who has created a Black female lead who can compete with the likes of Mad Men’s Don Draper and Breaking Bad’s Walter White.
Scandal returns to ABC on February 27, 2014.