We’re not accustomed to being wanted. Lusted after, yes. Fantasized about, no doubt. Objectified, without question. But wanted, loved, dreamed for? Not so much. Historically we’ve been sex objects, things of “use” but not desire, historically we’ve been second class and rarely depicted as much else. I have come to the conclusion that this, is why black women love Scandal. Everything about it is against how we’re usually depicted on TV and in movies. Pope is the star of the show. She has not one, but two (and occasionally three) successful and fine men in love with her. She runs her own business. She’s well known for her work and not just her body. She’s seen as strong and confident and not just a power hungry emotionless vessel. Essentially Shonda Rhimes has written a character that depicts black women as they see themselves and more importantly how they’d like society to view them.
What’s funny is that Olivia Pope’s character is not really all that far out of the realm of possibility. Yes the plot and almost everything that happens is completely unrealistic, but so many black women are currently out here killin’ it and with little to no recognition. It’s so rare that someone wants to highlight the successful black woman while not also harping on all of her flaws and why things are never quite right for her. We get articles, books, TV shows and even movies (thanks Tyler Perry) about how we don’t or can’t get married, how we’re married but cheating on our husbands, how we come from broken homes and have daddy issues, how we have it all but can’t find a man because we’re just so mean and have so much criteria, oh and everyone’s favorite how we refuse to date outside our race.
The idea that non-black men like and further more want to date black women is not as widespread of an understanding as one may think. So, to see Olivia Pope engage in relationships outside of her race is exciting, new and for some women, eye opening. Furthermore, with the term “thirsty” on the lips of many men and a number of women to describe black women in a lot of situations, it is great to see Pope being pursued by a man of any color.
Scandal shows us a woman that we can in some ways relate to and even more so aspire (loosely as it may be) to be like. Yes Olivia Pope has issues, but the grace and ease at which she handles them is what grabs us and keeps us coming back. Unlike the reality TV shows we often see there are no cat fights over a man, there isn’t any cussing people out to get your way, there isn’t any running to a man because we can’t live without one, there’s no black mother or grandmother taking over our lives because we can’t control ourselves, to be cliché “It’s handled” and more importantly, by us.
We, as black women, ignore that affairs are bad and how legitimately scandalous it is to engage in such a relationship with the President of the United States because we’re so enamored with the main character and her poise, drive and style. This can easily be seen through the mediocre ratings of shows such as “Mistresses and Betrayal” that writers and producers have thought what would do well because they have the same “angle” as Scandal. The commercials promoting these shows compare them to Scandal and try to convince us that we’ll love them because it’s of the same sexy genre. They’ve convinced themselves that the success of the show came from the naughty nature of the relationships, the sly sneaky lives of the characters and the suspense around getting caught. But they’ve completely misread the situation. Olivia Pope’s affair with Fitz is just one part of many that make up a dynamic, admirable and somewhat relatable black woman. A show about a married white woman with a child having an affair with another white man that looks just like her husband isn’t doing that for us. We don’t love Olivia for her sexual freedom or her secret (well not so secret now) love affair; it’s more than that.
It doesn’t hurt that Kerry Washington is actually amazing in real life. She leads a private life, which is hard to do for a celebrity. She’s married, working for the White House on their council of Arts and the Humanities, she’s spoken at political conventions and has a very successful career. She’s actually a real life role model and a black woman who stays true to portraying herself as she would truly like to be seen in the world.
Hopefully this is a turn in the right direction. There could be a chance that Katherine Heigl won’t get every cute single girl role or that the next “black movie” features a heroine to which successful black women can relate. For now we have Scandal, for now, once a week for 60 minutes we’re able to engross ourselves in ideals and excitement of the ever so complex, charming and clever life of a strong black woman.