Here is my Scandal post. The one I’ve been promising to do since forever. I was prompted to finally get on the ball by a recent discussion post about the television show Scandal over where I used to hangout often, the OHN Blog. This post is an expansion of one of my comments on that thread. Because I’m Wordsmith, I could write whole dissertations while commenting on blogs, so I tried to keep my ish as short and sweet as possible. What also happened, was that I was for the first time able to articulate just why I love Shonda Rhime’s Scandal, and why this show is so popular with Black women.
First, I will acknowledge that there is a lot to discuss here. You can Google and get in on all that. What I’m doing here is distilling it all down to the essential thing – the thing that I think many fans of the show may not even realize is a huge part of their attraction to the show. I think it starts out being very subconscious and slowly rises to the top of your mind. Maybe that’s what happened to me to, because it took so long for me to actually be able to lay a finger on it, besides the usual, more closer to the surface reasons for loving a TV show – excellent writing, great casting etc.
I read somewhere that it’s tacky to quote oneself. Well it’s also tacky to have a TV show set in New York or Chicago without any POCs in sight, so whatever. I’ll be quoting from my comment on the aforementioned blog discussion and breaking them further down. So you can better know just why I love Scandal so damn much.
Easy On The Eyes
My brain gets to rest when I watch that show. My eyes are soothed and comforted. Because I’m not sitting tense in my chair squinching my eyes and peering at my monitor – hunting for that one POC I’m hoping will show up somewhere sometime on my screen.
This is one of those Things that chips away at you if you are Of Color and live in America. “Normal” TV is white people doing everything, all the time. You put up with those needling pinpricks of pain because maybe a show or a movie is in the genre that you love, and well you tune in anyway, and hope against history that you’ll see a decent representative of yourself showing up on your screen. That is the trade off POCs make day after day after day. Endure the ouch so you can tune in to the entertainment you love. How effed up is that? Didn’t know it was like that for us? Now you know.
As a Black woman, when I watch Scandal, I’m not stressed out. I’m not sitting in the comfort of my home encapsulated in a full suit of body armor in hopes it will protect me against the pain inflicted upon me from what I’m watching. I’m chilling. I’m at ease. I’m actually comfortable. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you are drunk on the koolaid or too steeped in your privilege and have never had to experience television or movie watching like we have.
Shonda Rhimes makes Normal TV for ME.
Hello – GOODBYE
I don’t have to cross my fingers and wish and hope that I’ll get to see a Black female character on my screen – one that doesn’t blip by in 1.24 seconds while the camera lingers lovingly on white faces. One that doesn’t show up for one episode simply to be a foil for the (usually) white protagonist before being killed off or written out of the storyline.
Let me tell you a story. A fairy tale perhaps. Maybe an example of what happens all the time and when it does it kills you inside just a little. (Or maybe actually quite a lot). Once upon a time there was a television show called Once Upon A Time. The cast was (as per usual for American TV shows) nearly all completely totally white. The only Black person around for miles (not an extra, not background filler, but part of the main cast) was a Black guy and he (of course) was BAD.
In the fourth episode of this blizzardly whiteout, OMG! A splash of color! Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears! She is Black, she is Beautiful, She has a fabulous gown and is all magical and sparkly and glowy and hurrah! Now we’re talkin! And that suit of body armor starts to slip off a little.
She is onscreen for barely two minutes, about to hook Cinderella up with all her bling and glass slippers and whatsnot when BAM!!! Rumplestiltskin (white male) snuffs her out and steals her wand. It was brutal, sudden, unnecessary and callous. And yes, I took it very personally.
Aside from that pervasive phenomenon, you get WOC being cast as lures if they are cast at all, and even worse feeble and failed attempts to rise to the greatness of Scandal and failing miserably with the likes of having a WOC billed as the lead and then… She is left to suffer stereotypical storylines, and shunted aside repeatedly in favor of her white co-stars from promotional advertising to actual screen time. Deception anyone? Aptly named show, if you ask me.
I could easily list about 10 or 20 more examples but I won’t.
Let’s talk camera work. “…hope that I’ll get to see a Black female character on my screen – one that doesn’t blip by in 1.24 seconds while the camera lingers lovingly on white faces.”
That scittering away from Black faces camera work thing angers me to no end. And this is part of that whole unconscious thing I mentioned at the top of this post. Kerry Washington is all up on my screen, all the time, every episode and I’m loving it. Your soul is loving it too, you just didn’t realize that that is a big part in your attraction to this show. Now you know.
Just how Oprah gave a lesson to all TV show techs on How To Light A Set For Black People, this show soothes with the science of seeing me reflected back at me. You don’t know how much the opposite of that is actually affecting you until you get exposed to camera work that doesn’t ignore and sideline POC actors.
Thank You Shonda Rhimes
If I ever get to meet Shonda Rhimes I will thank her personally for the gift that is Olivia Pope and her TV show Scandal. I’m not happy with all of her character choices for Olivia and the show in general, but as it is ongoing, I’m interested to wait it out and see where she is taking things. “Side piece” is the least of what Olivia Pope is and certainly doesn’t define her. But if that is all you want to take away from this show, then so be it. But IMO I think you are missing out on a paradigm shift in television entertainment.
A show that actually has a Black woman in it. A character that isn’t specially created to appear just once in one episode and then disappear forever. A Black woman cast as one of the main characters. And said character isn’t a caricature or a stereotype. A Black woman as the main character. As the protagonist. As the star of the whole friggin shebang.
A television show on a major network on prime time TV, that stars a Black woman. A successful show. (On March 21, 2013, Scandal acheived a series-high 2.8 18-49 rating, and 8.51 million viewers.) A show that has the BUZZ. A show that not only features a Black woman as the lead, but was created by a Black woman, has supporting POC characters, and POCs in re-occurring roles. A show that has POCs writing for POC characters.
A Black female lead in a highly rated and highly successful television show, written and created by a Black female. That happens a lot. I’m not saying support it just because of that. But don’t dismiss it outright either. I’m not being very articulate, but what I think it breaks down to for me, is that there is a safe harbor for me to go to every week. A rest from the microaggressions, the negating, the huge block of entertainment out there that doesn’t even bother to include me, much less have a complicated, humanly flawed and incredibly interesting character for me to enjoy, relate to and talk about.
A television show that has a Black woman starring. The character she plays is fleshed out, not one-dimensional. She has flaws like you and me. She is also a powerhouse in her own right. She is highly successful at what she does, and surrounds herself with hand-picked squad of “Gladiators In Suits” to help her get the job DONE. She is at the top of her game. She is human. She is multi-faceted and complicated. She looks like ME. I can relate to the lead role in a popular, smart, well-written, successful television show.
The things I have just written in the last few paragraphs are revolutionary. Those things are anomalies and not the norm. Find me any currently on the air television shows that are doing all of those same things and I’ll write you a check from my Life Savings Account.
Do you GET what that means to me? To have that safe harbour? To be able to strip away that body armor and just curl up in my jammies and sip my tea and be simply entertained without having the worry, the stress, the killing me slowly piece by piece that occurs with 99.99% of every damn thing else on television today? Do You Understand???
That’s why I love Scandal.
Now fast forward to present day when Scandal is in season 3, fresh back from a very long hiatus. I still love the show for all of those reasons above. However, the writing has gone downhill, and there has been way too much pandering to the part of the viewing audience that can’t seem to get enough of Olitz.
I for one, thought that whole thing would have been resolved in a season or the very least by mid-season two. Enough is enough. The show needs to get back to OPA dealing with the “MOTW” and kicking ass, fixing ish and taking names, with the brilliant and savvy Olivia Pope at the helm listening to her gut and running Washington D.C. from her office.
That’s the Olivia Pope I signed up for.
For more in-depth discourse on exactly what I’m talking about and how I feel about the trajectory of the show as a whole and especially the character of Olivia Pope:
Thank you Ankhesen Mie and The Black Girls Club crew! Their critiques of Scandal are clear, astute and very much on point. Also a spoiler alert as most of those blog posts are recaps. Also, unlike most blog spaces, for extra oomph be sure to read the comments, the discussion is great there.
Also I’m tired of shows ratcheting up the scariness and awfulness of someone touted to be The Big Bad, and then…. turns out it’s just someone’s disgruntled ex. Really? It’s becoming a THING now on television and I’m not here for it. At. All. What a waste of really good characters and a throw away of what could be an amazing story arc.
P.S. Dear Shonda Rhimes,
I used to wait with bated breath for the latest Scandal episode to show up on Hulu or my Secret TV Watching Place on the web every Thursday night/Friday morning. Now, sometimes I remember a new episode has occurred around Sunday evening or even the beginning of the next week. I’ve stopped looking forward to watching your show. That is not a good thing, because I am far from being the only one this is happening to.
With smash hit political intrigue shows like House of Cards, and awesome over the top drama happening on shows like Sleepy Hollow – where I also get Black Woman Lead fierceness at the same time – you really need to up your game and FIX Scandal post haste.
Also Check Out what Kid Fury has to say about the current incarnation of the Olivia Pope character. YES!!! What he said:
RECOMMENDED: Viola Slayed and Scandal Stayed.
Update October 2015: Note that I stopped watching Scandal completely in the middle of Season 4 Episode 14 “The Lawn Chair”. Too triggering what with current events happening (which I’m sure prompted the episode to be written), and the focus continuing to be: OMG BLACK MEN KILLED BY THE POLICE when it’s BLACK PEOPLE including Black women and girls. I opted out.
I also stopped watching Sleepy Hollow somewhere near/at the end of the 2nd season when it was clear SOMEONE over at Fox was determined that this popular and successful TV serious starring a Black woman had to be destroyed. I opted out. Yall enjoy the Bones crossover I hear is coming up this month.
Praise Buddha for How To Get Away With Murder. Shame though, instead of having three amazing TV shows to watch starring Black women, I only got one left.
*Something you should know if you don’t know already. I “cut the cord” years ago and I don’t watch television. The cable that comes into my house is for the internet ONLY. The cable provider also takes care of my land-line telephone. That’s IT. I started watching Scandal on Netflix and then hulu to get the more recent airings.
On that note, I urge all POCs to consider the soul-killing damaging effects of exposing yourself to television all the time. From the content, depiction of yourselves, and yes, even the advertising that comes along in between all that – you could do yourself and your family a great service if you begin to wrest more control over what you see, and what you choose for your entertainment.
Netflix, while far from perfect allows you to choose and be in control of what you and yours watch. From television shows to movies. There are other services you can use that allow you to have that same power – hulu, amazon, blockbuster online (I think), youtube, and keep your eyes peeled for Red Box online movie screening coming to your computers soon.
Take the money you are spending on television and apply it areas where you have control over what you see. Look at your bill. How much are you paying for cable? How much does the average Netflix and/or hulu subscription cost? Factor in those tangible “intangibles” like that suit of armor I spoke about and things like spiritual and emotional damage and: Do The Math.
Keep your eyes peeled for and support Black/POC created, and Black/POC cast, and Black/POC written web series <—LIKE THESE. This is the new area where we are saying eff you Hollywhite we going to do our own thing. Keep your eyes on indie films and directors of color not only from the US, but world wide. Become international. Be savvy.
Regain control of what media comes into your home, and support that things you find that you love not only financially, but by watching, by tweeting, by signal boosting on Facebook, your blogs and other social media. Over brunch with your girlfriends, at a family gathering and so forth.
Donate when and if you can. Put your hard earned money towards the people that are creating entertainment by and for YOU. And in the process you are taking away support from the places that don’t do or have that. Money is the language they speak. Ratings, box office, viewership numbers = The Bottom Line. Drain away their income and direct it in more healthy directions.
Be a part of the paradigm shift.