Did any of you watch the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards last night? Here’s Kerry Washington looking lovely as usual.
Before we get into this conversation, I wanted to share the news that Survivior/Thriver Tina Turner is poised to become a Swiss citizen and give up her US passport. This is important for several reasons, but what I want to focus on is how Ms. Turner is making choices that benefit her. She’s not holding onto people, places or positions that no longer carry water. She’s lived abroad for more than 20 years and is happily coupled, so there’s no reason for her to look back. Yet, some black women still don’t get it and will continue choosing the slow lane and throw roadblocks to impede the progress of others. Compare and contrast her choices with yours and ask yourself if you’re living for other people’s ideologies or your own? Does your cup runneth over or is it empty?
Who knew that a two-week show hiatus would reveal a potential hotbed of
scandal controversy? Yesterday as I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline, I spotted a status update by writer Roslyn Holcomb who had responded to a separate public conversation between Scandal scribe Shonda Rhimes and tv personality Star Jones that took place on Twitter. Ms. Jones asked Ms. Rhimes why Olivia Pope was rejecting Edison Davis for President Grant (click link for Twitter status) and Ms. Rhimes’ reply that Scandal is not a fairy tale show and Olivia Pope is not a role model. It has been pointed out numerous times, the title of the show is SCANDAL and it’s all about…um…scandals. I’m not so dismissive of abandoning the idea that Olivia is still a good person who carries herself with dignity.There’s no Scarlet emblem and she’s dressed often in white for a reason.
This seems like an innocuous question by Ms. Jones, but it belies an underlying message that presumes Edison is the best choice for Olivia. Why would he be presented as the automatic choice? Just a brief back-story for those who may not be aware, the television show Ms. Rhimes launched less than one year ago is currently the Number 1 show in its time slot on Thursday and continues to increase its audience share. This is important because it means Scandal has legs. Since it’s the only show with a black female lead who is also the center of the show’s plots (unlike the very weak series Deception), this matters. Also, the entire cast actively engages its viewers via social media, particularly Twitter where they do weekly live chats while the show airs for both East and West Coast viewers. That is unprecedented. All of this has been instrumental in generating interest in the show, but the reason why the show scores so high in ratings is because it’s well-crafted and executed, by actors who add layers to rich characters where viewers are invested.
It should be noted, these characters are flawed, make controversial (illegal even) choices and are often a study in contradiction. We have a Chief of Staff who hired a contract killer to eliminate a woman who claimed to be carrying the out-of-wedlock child of the President. We have a team of people who knowingly allowed for a rigged election (read the back story real-life speculation). We have a another former CIA contract killer and Olivia Pope Associate who was tortured at the Pentagon while under suspicion for shooting the President. We have a woman who faked a miscarriage to get sympathy votes. We have a woman who had a relationship with the married President. We accept these actions because there’s always an even more compelling motivation even if we don’t agree with them.
Luckily, it’s a tv show so we don’t have to worry about the real-life ramifications of similar decisions made by those in positions of power and influence. Kinda like real life people who make mistakes, don’t always take the higher road or do outrageous things. Weapons of Mass Destruction anyone? There are no saints on Scandal. I don’t necessarily agree with describing Olivia Pope as a non-role model. She’s just not perfect. If she was, as viewers of a dramatic series we’d be bored to tears. I hope Olivia Pope remains a contradiction at times and not self-sacrificing for appearances the way the writers of The Good Wife backpedaled with Alicia Florrick. With a good television show (play, movie, etc.) there’s always going to be a heightened element of farce, where an audience has to suspend a certain amount of belief in the mundane or the outrageous. Be it with an action movie where the characters perform incredible feats or accepting the real life plausible deniability from a political figure, we as individuals hopefully make choices based on correct values and ideologies. What we believe to be true (whether it’s valid, appropriate or beneficial) informs our motives whether we admit it or not.
When Ms. Jones sent a message on Twitter to Ms. Rhimes admonishing the romantic couplings of our heroine, Ms. Rhimes responded in kind. After the reply Ms. Jones continued to discuss her opinion using the #scandal Twitter hashtag and wrote: “I love
#scandal. @kerrywashington is ridiculously good…but I’d love to see #OliviaPope reject the unethical & immoral for a good brother!” Just in case you didn’t get the message before, she made it obvious. This reeks of black woman martyrdom. Why is my brain immediately thinking about the saying about glass houses and stone throwing? Why couldn’t Olivia “reject” something “bad” for a good man period? How does someone else get to decide what is GOOD for others anyway? Ms. Rhimes had moved on but you know what? She needed to nip this hijacking attempt in the bud before the anti-BW Choice Brigade’s backbiting gained momentum and derailed her latest show.
When people want to challenge or tear down other folks’ creations, they need to take a step back and ask if they are trying to control what someone else is expressing or if they actually have something of value to offer? There’s a difference in having the necessary conversations and critiques about the images of black women, the rampant support of projects that denigrate us and the execution of creative license. The creative leads behind The Good Wife publicly responded to tv critic and fan outrage over a plot involving one of their series regulars (Kalinda Sharma) and shuttered the story arc, which I personally thought was a huge mistake. Sometimes the loudest voices do not represent the masses and whatever is going on behind the scenes, there’s a difference between gauging feedback and allowing random people to crowd control your work. I haven’t liked the choices of the lead female character Alicia Florrick during the past two seasons, but I’m holding out for a big payoff before the series winds down. As viewers we may not always agree with the actions of our characters but have the option of letting the plot complete its course or not watch a show.
Given the backstage shenanigans that happened on Grey’s Anatomy, with actors who didn’t get along and what I’ve always suspected was the hijacking of plot scenarios to favor some who’ve since departed (and seen their careers stall), I imagine Ms. Rhimes would be very protective of this show. In the Next Chapter interview with Oprah Winfrey, she discussed the vetting process she put in place to minimize such conniving, disrespectful behavior and potential sabotage. There were many good segments and it’s worth the review.
Ms. Rhimes was brief and polite in her response to Ms. Jones, but she made it clear that she isn’t seeking approval from the”black love” or the “do it this way” police either. How does she have time to be on Twitter with an exhaustive shooting schedule and two kids? Now, Ms. Rhimes hadn’t mentioned that specifically in her reply, I am as have others. As regular readers of this forum know we’ve discussed at length how numerous otherwise successful black women (particularly African American women) who share certain dead-end road ideologies aligned with Blackistan will continue to limit their dating choices aka “nuthin’ but a brotha” mentality, instead of being expansive across the board.
As a character analysis, let’s briefly discuss Edison Davis and Olivia Pope as a couple. They previously dated for several years and were engaged before the relationship petered out. Then she went to work on then-Senator Grant’s campaign and here we are. We don’t know the Davis/Pope full back story – yet – but suffice it to say if he had her once and let her go obviously there were compatibility issues. Edison has had no problem with endlessly “dating” and sexing Olivia, but they’re not married for a reason. Is it ethical for a man his age to continually enjoy the benefits of a relationship without committing to the woman?
While it is not okay that Fitz is involved with Olivia, he has at least shown he’s capable of making a commitment. Sometimes marriages just peter out, due to neglect, divergent interests or external influences. It’s not fair, but typically men who stay in unhappy marriages won’t leave their wives until and unless they know they have someone else to be with, so there’s often overlap. Again, it’s not pretty but it happens. Olivia has options and so should every black woman – even if it means making a few mistakes along the way. As long as she doesn’t settle, let’s be careful how we address “moral” issues (from our very American perspective on what a marriage is supposed to be). What we’ve seen thus far is how career-driven Edison is and how he benefits from his association with Olivia (when Fitz supported Ed’s appointment to Senate Majority Leader in deference to their relationship). How has Edison treated Olivia? He called her a “criminal, whore, idiot and a liar”. And then he proposed…marriage. Reeks of desperation! It must be love, eh?
We can debate the lack of ‘virtue’ within the triangle between Fitz, Mellie and Olivia and her “affair” with the President, but if you’re paying attention to the plot “Olitz” have not technically engaged in a physical relationship since Olivia quit both Fitz and her White House position two years ago. The Grants have a dysfunctional relationship, where it’s been alluded that Fitz went along to get along thanks to the meddling influence of his wife and poor relations with his father. Once they reached the pinnacle career-wise for a politician – the Presidency – Fitz realized it’s not enough. He bested his father, who flat out told his son he was a loser despite his military service, three degrees and being a Rhodes Scholar. “Olitz” have a strong emotional bond and are still very much in love with each other. Soapbox pontificating aside, if this was a real-life scenario (who’s to say this hasn’t occurred?) where a sitting President who chose to marry a wealthy, well-connected woman and settled into a mediocre marriage where acquiring power was the tie that bound their partnership and found himself completely undone after meeting an equally formidable woman (if not more) that he connects with who is not his wife, what is the appropriate response? Ignore it or pursue it? Reveal it and leave office, leaving the country with a Vice President who’s staunchly right-wing or fulfill his obligations and fumble his way through? Plus there are children involved!
I have tremendous sympathy for the characters and credit goes to Ms. Rhimes for expanding Mellie from someone who came across as strictly power-hungry and cold to a woman we see had subjugated her own ambition and perhaps lost herself in deference to her husband’s success, which now leaves them both ultimately dissatisfied because the parameters changed. It makes people very uncomfortable because we can logically see why the Grants don’t work together well as a couple, but are bound by a lengthy marital history and their position. We see how well Fitz and Liv are together, knowing that it’s going to be next to impossible for them to skip off into “ever after”, but of course the main fissure of energy (aside from their amazing chemistry together) is that he’s a powerful white man and she’s a visibly black woman and some people don’t like it. Olivia is not an asexual, loud or otherwise oddly acting woman. Some are like spectators at the zoo waiting for fireworks or a crash.
If the argument against marital infidelity was legitimate wouldn’t this be as vigorously debated about other tv shows? Then the flip side of this conversation would be about marriage and fidelity in the black community. This is a great opportunity for people to open the floor to serious discussion about the real-life ramifications of the almost non-existent marriage rate for black women, the majority out-of-wedlock parenting standard and the resulting negative health and financial impact that devalues the entire community and the lack of support of black women and girls. Where are all these “good brothas” that Ms. Jones’ is fighting for an why haven’t they stepped into their roles as protectors and providers?
I’ve likened Fitz and Olivia to Charles and Camilla in my previous Scandal recap for a reason. The show has gone to great lengths to reveal their bond. The relationship between the Prince of Wales is similar enough regarding duty (marriage to the “right” kind of woman) versus who he’s connected with. It was horribly unfair to the late Princess Diana to be used as blue blood prime stock to produce an heir, but going further back the Windsors were never supposed to be ruling monarchs and only got the position because King Edward VIII abdicated the Crown to marry Wallis Simpson.
“But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.”
Obviously “love” and “obligation” are sometimes at odds. Yet two-three decades later the love Charles has for Camilla had to be acknowledged and accepted. There is also a thread of American puritanical-ism at play that isn’t quite the issue with European viewers. In fact, in real life the current French President, François Hollande isn’t even married! He has a live-in girlfriend! That may not happen here in the USA anytime soon (New York Governor Andrew Cuomo isn’t apologizing for doing it), but it helps add perspective. Since Ms. Rhimes stated during that Oprah interview that “Olitz” is the primary relationship on the show (but doesn’t guarantee they’ll be together), as a viewer I’m already prepared for them to remain apart for awhile because the timing clearly isn’t right, not because there isn’t a deep, abiding love shared between them or their relationship is somehow inherently “wrong”.
After the assassination attempt, Olivia was so devoted to protecting his legacy and even planned his funeral. She and Mellie had to work together to reinforce Fitz’s power base against the interloper VP knowing he could have died at any moment. It was during these episodes you could see Mellie realizing how precarious her positioning was without Fitz – and how much she relies on Olivia despite everything else. Olivia doesn’t derive her power or identity from her position as Mellie does, so don’t expect FLOTUS to walk away quietly especially when she’s carrying America’s Baby. It’s not fair for Olivia to have to wait for Fitz and if she met someone else who was “appropriate” and available, obviously she should move forward. Edison is not that man regardless.
What I found interesting was how Ms. Jones referenced Edison’s appearance and race “fione brotha syndrome” as being indicative of why Olivia should be with him instead of Fitz as opposed to his character traits. The assumption being that a black male is the automatic go-to choice for a black woman. When we know and see it displayed how the majority of black males do not elevate the beauty of or protect black women and do not choose black women as wives if they marry at all. I don’t need to point out to you the historical standard for black males has been to chose light-skinned black women with long “good” hair and how that has further devolved into the racially ambiguous “blackish” woman with the ultimate goal of choosing white (possibly Asian and Latina) women.
So, I’ve been expecting someone to protest “Olitz” not because Fitz is married but because he’s white. We already know Mellie got pregnant to quell the mounting doubt that she and Fitz were in a dead marriage. It was a sticking point which is why Cyrus brought Olivia into the campaign to help in the first place. I’m not justifying this at all, but it is what it is. Fitz was going to turn to someone else eventually and even if he and Olivia remain apart, he will choose someone else because men are weak like that and he’s not Prince Charming. Just sayin’!! He’s made choices that have caused him to reevaluate his ethical code as well by even being with Olivia, but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing her doggedly. The Amanda Tanner scare is long gone, he almost died and he wants his life in order. Everything is up for grabs right now. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that the objector was not a black male (pontificater) but perhaps the popularity of Ms. Rhimes other shows and interracial couplings between black males and non-black women quelled that. Perhaps due to previous initiative in the blogosphere by black women promoting the interests of other black women (BWE) has also factored in. Perhaps because some of the show reviewers positions are highly coveted paying gigs. There’s been a huge uptick in BW/Non-black men pairings lately shown on tv and that’s no coincidence.
Yet, of course it was an unfortunate black woman who decided to signup for guard dog duty and throw herself on the precipice of black male interests by being the one to shoot off at the keyboard. Ms. Jones, whose failed marriage to an extra sweet “fione brotha” likely didn’t think the criticism about a tv character would subject herself to ridicule about her own personal choices. She also didn’t account for the cast to weigh in and stand up for Ms. Rhimes. If you go to the Scandal Twitter hashtag page there’s quite a few comments. If it wasn’t a big deal to her she wouldn’t have taken the time to complain in the first place.
Certain African American women in particular will continue to be horrified by the fact black men do not belong to black women. And vice versa. Smart women go where they’re wanted and form alliances with people and situations that are favorable – not hostile and non-supportive. I was very concerned Ms. Rhimes was going to permanently pair Olivia with a black male to appease the Blackistan mentality and am relieved she hasn’t. If you’ve read the Scandal related comments on Twitter and Facebook you would have noticed viewer snark in commenting how much the actor Norm Lewis looks like Bill Cosby by referring to him a Puddin’ Pop. Kudos to the actor and Broadway star (who has an amazing singing voice in case you didn’t know) for being the “fall guy” in this four-way because no man is going to fill Fitz’s shoes. Especially someone that’s been on the merry-go-round already. They’re not connected at all and if Edison is perfect on paper, you can see why they’re ultimately not a good fit for each other because he doesn’t get her. Plus, he’s intimidated by Liv enough that he’s tried to dominate her. No bueno! “Olitz” had what appeared to be a final blowout argument where they were going to irrevocably cut ties, but then Fitz got shot and after surviving a bullet in his brain, POTUS told FLOTUS he wants a DIVORCE. I can’t wait to see how that conflict plays out!
Scandal has also avoided the dreaded sophomore slump for series that start off strong and veer off a bit (like Revenge). I’d dare say Season Two is vastly superior to Season One, though I still miss the Stephen character. As the show progresses it would be nice to be introduced to her family, friends and see her have down time, but I’m going to compare another plot development over at The Good Wife by mentioning that we’ve just been introduced to Alicia’s mother in the FOURTH season, so give it some time.
Olivia Pope is an educated, attractive, feminine and powerful woman. She is a strong woman with a little “s” – not a martyr or a mule. She is flawed, but not depraved. She is also career-driven. Does her complicated love life personify the modern Western woman’s dilemma in showing you can’t have it all (because excelling in a pressure-cooker lifestyle and demanding career requires such a commitment that everything else falls by the wayside? She has a team of associates who refer to themselves as gladiators in suits and they will jump off a cliff for her, yet they are all single and child-free. She is fully three-dimensional and grounded, but is her life an ideal? She’s front and center on the show and the love interest of the most powerful man in the world. Kerry Washington brings a lot of vulnerability and we see her internal struggle at denying the passion she feels for this man however inconvenient it is. The on-screen chemistry between Ms. Washington and Tony Goldwyn as President Fitzgerald Grant is palpable and completely believable. Without it, this romance thread would be DOA and Scandal would be a completely different show. Kudos to Ms. Rhimes for bringing out the best in her actors and writing roles that showcase their best work. I wouldn’t oppose having a real-life moderate Republican President like Grant in office in real-life, especially one whose tv alter ego wants to affect positive change. The bottom line is we’ve not had a character like Olivia Pope before and she shouldn’t be the last.
Racio-misogyny is still rampant and despite all of her success (Creator, Head Writer, Executive Producer of THREE hit shows all airing simultaneously), Ms. Rhimes has had to continually address other people telling her where her place should be and what she should be doing. None of her series are “black” shows though she has always written roles for black women. While there can be a legitimate debate about the representation of these characters, dictating whom they should have as life partners based on race is not one of them.
Ok, I’ve sounded off enough. What do you think? Do you think Olivia Pope embodies the Jezebel (or some other) stereotype? I’ve been wanting to write a mid-season Scandal recap which was barely touched on and if you don’t watch the show and want to catch up, Season 1 is on Netflix, Season 2 is on Hulu Plus and the most recent 4-5 episodes can be viewed at ABC. I’m so excited for this second half of the season because there’s going to be a time jump, Fitz is going to find out about the election rigging (will he forgive Liv?) and of course Mellie has the baby. Actor Scott Foley (remember Felicity?) is also joining the cast. Since #GoodbyeEdison has become a oft-used hashtag as people kvetch over how much they don’t like his character with Liv, I can’t wait to find out what happens.