Why Scandal’s Olivia Pope is Super Badass

So, how many of you watch the gloriousness that is ABC’s Scandal?

I’m guessing most of you, since you’re reading this. If you don’t, though, here’s one perfectly good reason to start:

Kerri Washington

How gorgeous is Kerry Washington? Seriously. It’s ridiculous. I’m pretty sure my fiancée would leave me for her, if she got the chance. I wouldn’t even blame her.

But! Let’s stop objectifying the oh-so-fabulous Kerry and talk about that show she stars in. On Scandal, she plays lead character Olivia Pope. To make a long and complicated story short, Pope runs an incredibly successful PR business in Washington, D.C, where she and her associates diffuse political scandals. She’s also having a super hot affair with the President, a.k.a. the angry and brooding Fitz.

All any of that really means is that she’s the biggest badass on the East coast.


“Now I shall incinerate you with my eyes.”

Skeptical about Pope’s badassery? Like, there are professional fixers? That’s even a real job? Yes. Yes it is. Pope’s character is loosely based off of real-life fixer Judy Smith, the number one crisis management expert in the country, and the lady who kept Bill Clinton in the White House during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

judy smith

Keeping mistresses quiet for over 25 years.

So, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I absofuckinglutely love Scandal. It’s the silver-lining of my over-priced cable bill. It’s the reason Thursday nights are my favorite night of the week. (Well, that and Grey’s AnatomyDon’t hate. I love me some Shonda Rhimes.) And this morning, while I was eating my breakfast of vanilla-flavored shredded wheat and mulling over last night’s episode, I read an article in The Nation that reduced Scandal down to a “political soap opera.”

Um, say what now?

A political soap opera it may be, but Scandal is also much more than that. It’s a pretty important show, actually, and one The Nation shouldn’t dismiss so lightly.

To begin with, it’s the only drama on network TV that features a black woman as the main character. It’s also the first one to do so since 1974. This is what it looked like last time:


“You’re under arrest, sugar.”

Yes. When upper armlets were in style. Seriously.

Beyond that, the show’s racial politics are pretty complicated and fascinating–something The Nation fails to investigate in its wordy, synopsis-heavy editorial. Olivia Pope seems to live in world of racelessness, where her blackness is almost never mentioned, never discussed, never an issue. She has no black family, only one black friend/coworker, and one black ex–who’s peripheral, and honestly, pretty irritating.


“Let me tame you into my little pie-baking, baby-making wife.”

As Racialicious writer AJ points out, Pope’s character is racially interchangeable. She could easily be a white character, but she’s not, namely because Kerry Washington plays her. There is nothing tying her to a black community, a black culture, a black way of being. Instead, the show seems to be written in the language of colorblindness–a magical set of ideas where race is irrelevant, and even thinking about it smacks dangerously of racism.


“I’m determined not to see how you’re different.”

But really, all colorblindness does is plant a gigantic elephant in the room. It makes racism invisible, taking away any effective vocabulary we have to talk about it, and it erases personal and cultural differences. Instead of saying, “Let’s celebrate and learn from all of the wonderful ways that we are different from each other!” colorblindness says, “I’m very aware of how you’re different from me, but it scares the shit out of me, so let’s never talk about it.”

Not so productive, am I right?


Unfortunately, Scandal is a prime example of colorblind politics at work. Olivia’s blackness is ignored, if not erased all together, as her world is filled almost exclusively with white folks and–more importantly–viewers are conditioned not to take notice.

But still! Scandal is one of my favorite shows! And not because I like to casually ignore problematic racial politics on TV!


Nope. It’s because Olivia Pope has a seriously nuanced sense of morality and a fair amount of character depth. It’s because she’s valued for her intelligence and not for her (excessive amount) of sex appeal. It’s because romance is a sub-plot in her narrative, not the be-all end-all of her existence.

It’s also because, on Scandal, Olivia Pope literally reshapes history while it’s happening. She’s like a puppet-master, pulling strings backstage that decide what makes it into the news, who sits in the White House, what narratives will get recorded in the history books.

liv walking

Ruling the world, NBD.

And in a world where “no black girl is safe,” as Andreana Clay points out in her own blog, the concept of a black woman controlling the march of history is pretty revolutionary.

And it didn’t used to be allowed. In the 1940s and 50s, there was Claudia Jones, a Trinidadian journalist and organizer who was ridiculously important to the development of feminist thought. Like, indispensably important.


The most feministy of feminists.

She came up with the concept of intersectionality, which is, for those of you who aren’t Gender Studies nerds, the idea that different identities like race, gender, and sexuality all converge to affect a person’s interaction with the world.

No big deal or anything, it’s just the foundation of all things feminist.


“You can thank me for everything, bitches.”

But despite how super important she was, you’ve probably never heard of Claudia, have you?

That’s because while she was busy making history, the FBI was busy keeping a huge file on her, denying her citizenship applications, and ultimately deporting her. A black, feminist, Communist woman with smarts and audacity was fucking terrifying to them, and so they got rid of her and blotted her out of the historical record. Bullshit. But not surprising.


And while Olivia Pope is no Claudia Jones–she’s fictional, Republican, post-racial, what have you–you know what she is? A fierce black woman who’s running the goddamn show, who tells everyone what to do, including the President, who makes and breaks political history as she sees fit.

And she’s not getting deported. She’s not even getting cancelled. She’s in thousands of living rooms every Thursday night at 10 p.m. And she’s commanding your undivided attention (like you could tear your eyes away from her anyway).


So, reducing Scandal to a silly political soap opera, junk food guilty pleasure, or trash TV with fancy clothes?

You’re missing the point.

Scandal‘s success is, perhaps, the first time EVER that a black woman has been vested with a whole ton of power without being degraded to a stereotypical, one-dimensional, strong black woman, being hypersexualized, or being destroyed entirely.

So take notice.


This is pretty freakin’ important.


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