Monday, January 14, 2013

Olivia Is Nobody's Sally

Chattel (noun):  1. A movable article of personal property, 2. Any article of tangible property other than land, buildings, and other things annexed to land, 3. A slave.

As SCANDAL’s audience has grown so has the critical commentary. I was hesitant to write this post, not because I think the subject matter is unimportant, but because I don’t feel the need to defend the show or its writers and producers. However, something about the tone of this debate bothers me.

I respect and welcome the constructive analysis and opinions of others. I’ve certainly had my own critiques about shows such as Sex and the City, which enjoyed a legion of devoted African-American female fans while virtually ignoring our existence. Maybe it’s because this comes behind years of magazine articles, TV exposés, and pejorative books written by men about the romantic plight of Black women, particularly those who have more education and money than their Black male counterparts.

The narrative goes some like this: Men feel emasculated by a woman’s success, so don’t remind him of yours. Men want to feel needed, so stop telling him you’re independent. Men need good sex on the regular, so don’t use your career as an excuse to avoid it.

Not surprisingly, this debate has shifted to the first network TV drama in almost 40 years to star an African-American woman in a leading role. There have been several articles comparing the main character, Olivia Pope, to Jezebel, Mammy, TV reality stars, and most offensively Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved concubine Sally Hemings. Critics argue that when a powerful White man has sex with an arguably less powerful Black woman, it creates the same dynamic found between a master and his slave. By that flawed logic, every Black person who works for a White person remains chattel property.

Black women are being derided on social media, mostly at the hands of Black men, as hypocrites and adultery enablers for wanting to see Olivia ride off into the sunset with the very married President Fitzgerald Grant. Do White women receive the same public dressing down from White men? If so, would somebody please send me 10 articles on the subject?

Herein lies the problem.

How many of these critics have attached similar labels to themselves for praising well-known philanderers Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Lil’ Wayne? Those are very real people whose actions have resulted in very real consequences. Yet, I don’t recall seeing multiple articles about their being insatiable sexual predators who play into the “black buck” stereotype.

In Olivia Pope’s case, we’re instructed to ignore her educational and professional accomplishments because her adulterous relationship with Fitz renders those things moot. Wow. No matter what a Black woman achieves in life, some people always find a way to undermine her success.

Currently, there is an analysis written by Dean Steed making the rounds that explores his perceived deception by SCANDAL’s writers regarding the Republican Party’s policies. He claims this is an example of black faces being used to perpetuate inaccuracies about the real ideology of the GOP. If anybody watching SCANDAL doesn’t know the Republican agenda independent of a Hollywood script, there are much bigger issues at play. Don’t blame a TV show for their ignorance.

Research the politics of head writer Shonda Rhimes. She’s pro-gay rights, pro-women’s rights, and pro-minority rights. She’s smartly used her three shows to drive home those facts. Perhaps the fictitious Republican Party on SCANDAL represents her vision of what they could and should be. Steed must have missed the character Sally Langston, who fills the role of a current-day Tea Partier. She’s anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-immigration, much like those who infect today’s Republican Party.

In the same critique, Steed takes issue with the fact that the show is based on real life “fixer” Judy Smith, who worked under the first Bush administration and has defended some questionable characters, including Clarence Thomas. Really? The show is called SCANDAL. Who would he expect her to defend? Saints don’t need crisis managers.

I doubt my post will end this generations-old debate, but I didn’t sleep well yesterday with it on my mind. I likely won’t mention it again…unless I have another sleepless night.

Written by Shara D. Taylor of


  1. Its all ignorance. Its sad to say but in our society people focus too much on the negative instead of the positive. And as women, we dont even have our own backs sometimes. I dnt see black or white, I see two people in love. I agree with you on Sex and te City comment. Im an actor and recently a faith based movie was filmed here. I auditioned for one of the roles for those hiding out b/c of religious persecution. Needless to say I did not get chosen, those that did were white. The only black people in the movie were those who portrayed 'gang members.' No situation is specific to a certain ethnic group if youre trying to portray it on TV--except maybe slavery and the holocaust. I love Shonda Rhimes for having such a diverse cast, and ideals in her shows. Those who cannot look past those type of things and their 'sally hemmings' way of thinking are just narrow minded.

  2. Your comments about Sex and the City are spot on. You could add Friends and Seinfeld to that list too. It is amazing to me that these shows, based in a metropolis as diverse as NYC failed to represent the mosaic of people that live there...even as domestic help or cashiers. Sadly, we continue to support such foolishness and denigrate shows that attempt to cast people of color in a positive light.

    While I may not personally agree with Olivia's personal choices, her character has been cast outside of the stereotype. We as a people, as a nation won't grow until we can shed these old-fashioned foolish notions of what Black is or isn't; what Black can do or can't. One day, perhaps we'll find the mythical post-racial society that some people claim already exists.

  3. This is on point!!!

    I watch several shows with just as much dirt (if not more), however they don't get as much backlash as Scandal does. We do not have to be rocket scientists to figure out why.

    I won't go into how many debates I've had regarding this, but I am of the opinion that with some African Americans, you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. First some complain about us not receiving roles outside of what has normally been given to Black Actors (slave/gang member roles) - now Kerry Washington has a role out of what is considered the "norm" for Black Actors and some of us aren't happy with that. No one is considering how truly historical this show is. Written by a Black Woman, starring a Black Woman on mainstream television. This is a FIRST.

    Private Practice's character is a white female doctor who had a relationship with her best friends ex-husband. Addison has done some other unique things, lol - but I don't recall reading an article, comment, ANYTHING talking about her as a woman and the way she is viewed. No, because it is just TELEVISION, a character. Addison isn't the voice for every white woman out there. However with Olivia, it's as if the complaint is that Black women need to be viewed as Mother Theresa to make people happy.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

    2. Ex husband is the operative word.

    3. Yes, in that situation, let's not forget that Addison was introduced as a married woman who had an affair with her husband's best friend... So your point being? AGAIN - as many of the unsavory things that many of Shonda's characters present, not one has been judged as harshly as Olivia Pope.

  4. Great Great Post! Stopping by at Erika of Your Chic is Showing's suggestion. :-)

  5. Just came across your blog today and I love reading what you have to say about my favorite show - SCANDAL. I love this post!!! I'm not Black or White and I love Scandal for several reasons - the most important being that the character Olivia Pope is a beautiful, strong, and smart woman. My comments may sound too simplistic, but that's honestly the first thing I notice about this show - not that she's black or that she's having an affair - but because it's not often that you see a woman who commands attention when she speaks and "works".

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I think a good number of people watch it for the same reasons you do.

  6. It's ignorance, sure. But also an ignorance about Olivia as a character, and more importantly her relationship with Fitz. That's why i love the show so much, because of the true love they share. She's strong and confident. She helped him gain his presidency and she supports him no matter what.
    Then, she has a side business. Yes, he may be president and in a higher position of power then her, but she fought hard to get him there and she's achieved some miraculous things herself. She's Olivia Pope, she has a name, title, and reputation all her own.

    BTW: Fitz would kick ass at her being called a Sally.

  7. I'm so happy you created this space to share your commentary and invite others to do the same. I have to say I'm madly in love with Scandal for so many reasons. I started watching because I saw the drop dead gorgeous Kerry Washington on the Melisaa Harris Perry show. I was roped in by Kerry's brainiacness. She's so smart.

    I'm not a big fan of the hetlove. Usually the relationships are so predictably boring. Most writers seem to write TV women as powerful in the workplace and as a doormat in their social life. Shonda Rhimes doesn't do that. She writes fierce smart powerful women and righteous men who respect them. I love all the Scandal women - Liv, Abby, Quinn, Mellie, Verna, Asian sista, Cyrus' assistant (he's a journalist), and my fav case of all time, the Madame. And I love the Olitz sex scenes cause it shows Liv can take as good as she gives. And David and Abby, same thing - awesome!