Critique of ABC’s primetime series, Scandal l SpriritHouse and Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Fellow, Dean Steed

Critique of ABC’s primetime series, Scandal

Written by SpriritHouse and Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Fellow, Dean Steed

A variety of communities, including the Black community, continue to praise the American Broadcasting Channel’s (ABC) latest prime-time television series, Scandal. They celebrate it for being the first one-hour dramatic network television series produced and written by a Black woman (Rhonda Shimes) for an African American woman lead. Among such shows as Basketball Wives, Housewives of Atlanta, and Love and Hip Hop, capitalizing upon the racist mythologies of Black women as Sapphires and Jezebels, Scandal appeared as the beginning or genesis of a new Black woman who does not fit into these stereotypes. Scandal, presents the leading character, Olivia Pope, as an intelligent, independent, and resourceful Black woman. However, contrary to this representation, Olivia is not a new Black woman, Olivia is the quintessential Mammy, Jezebel, and Tragic Mulatto, wrapped into one. As a Mammy figure, she cleans up the messes of White men, covers their flaws, and protects their interests, while overlooking the needs of her own community. Essentially, her work is in the big house. Not only do White men see her as the Mammy, for them she is the tragic Mulatto and Jezebel. With her mulatto-like acceptability, she allows them to think White, while sleeping Black.

John Mayer, a White folk artist, reflects this attitude, when he states in Playboy magazine interview, that he possesses a “white supremacist ‘d–k” and that he would deviate from this and sleep with Kerry Washington, a black woman, because she is “super hot, white girl crazy, and would break your heart like a white girl.”

Although the series presents Olivia as a new woman, the center of gravity remains the same. The real scandal is that we accept the interracial love affair of Olivia Pope and the Republican president without recognizing that the image of Powerful White men, who sexually use Black women, is not new or liberating. It has it’s roots in a racist history that extends back to enslavement.

Olivia is the mistress and not the legitimate heir to the power and status of her White lover. Olivia’s position as mistress, echoes Sally Hemming’s affair with Thomas Jefferson. In season one, Olivia Pope engages in a heated argument with Fitzgerald Grant, over their torrid affair in which she likens their relationship to that of Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemming. Although Olivia draws on the example of Sally Hemming, she acts if her relationship with the President exists without a history or context. In other words, in a racialized society, the relationship is stripped of any racial meaning.

Despite the fact that many in the audience view Scandal as a groundbreaking series for it’s position in history as the first primetime series to be written and produced by a Black woman to feature and an African American woman as the lead, the show remains profoundly silent on the issue of race. It ignores that racism and White Supremacy are core values and organizing tools of the Republican party. In reality, members of the Republican party exploit and mobilize White resentment towards the gains that we achieved in the 1960s and 70s, viewing these gains as a loss of White power. Building on this resentment, the Republican party strategically uses codified language, distorted images, and a rhetoric of colorblind post-racialism to cover their racist assaults against our community.

The real scandal is that Olivia Pope, helps these men manipulate the public and to promote an anti-black agenda.

As I became further involved in the series, watching episode after episode, season after season, I slowly became increasingly aware of the incredible deception of the the producers who present the Republican party as supportive of democratic values while using a Black face to encourage the support of a Black audience.

In the first season, we witness Republican President, Fitzgerald Grant and his administration lobbying for the passage of the DREAM Act, a bill providing amnesty for young undocumented residents in the U.S and the support of immigration. In reality, the Republican party vehemently opposed the DREAM Act, executed under President, Barack Obama.

In 2011, Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney voiced his opposition to the DREAM Act, vowing to veto it, if elected.

Another prevalent deception in this series is the representation of the Republican party as supportive and accepting of LGBT rights. This is exemplified through the show’s representation of the Republican administration as supportive of the openly gay Chief of Staff, Cyrus. Scandal, presents Cyrus as an out gay Republican who is married to a young, male journalist.

In reality, the Republican party is very vocal in its opposition to gay rights and has strongly advocated against same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and the existence of gay men and women in the military. It was the Democratic President, Barack Obama who repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” along with vocalizing his support of same sex marriage.

Scandal is inspired by the life of co-producer and writer Judy Smith, Washington’s D.C’s crisis management expert and former Deputy Press Secretary and Public Relations consultant to the George H.W. Bush administration.

Judy Smith involved herself in the Clarence Thomas saga, when she provided her services to clear his image during Anita Hill’s charge of sexual harassment.

Judy Smith and actress Kerry Washington, (cast in the role of Olivia Pope) together lend a Black face to a party that builds its platform upon the continued oppression of all people of color.

The real scandal is that we know this and yet we allow this to invade our living room week after week.

(In my next article, I will reveal the ways in which Scandal mask the racist deeds of the Republican party)

Writer, Dean Steed, is the Lead Educator and Youth Organzinger at the Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Institute and Senior at Georgia State University, majoring in African American studies.

JONATHAN DANIELS & SAMUEL YOUNGE INSTITUTE

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Through the program, The SpiritHouse Project: (1) supports and prepares a new generation of peace and justice workers who want to discern a call to social justice and nonviolence; (2) strengthens their courage, hope, resolve, and reason to do this work; (3) prepares them to play leading roles in public policy debates about issues such as racism, poverty, prison industrial complex, militarism, and the shrinking budget for human needs, voting rights, privacy and judicial issues, and neo-conservatism; and (4) helps grassroots communities meet their urgent need for trained and committed volunteers or staff.

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WHAT IS THE SPIRIT HOUSE PROJECT?

The SpiritHouse Project is a national 501(c)3 non-profit organization that uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice, as well as for spiritual maturity.

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One thought on “Critique of ABC’s primetime series, Scandal l SpriritHouse and Johnathan Daniels and Samuel Younge Fellow, Dean Steed

  1. To the writers of this critique…

    I have watched every episode of Scandal, read and agreed with most of the accolades ascribed to the show; so I read this critique with great interest. However I could not disagree more with most of the points made.

    The writers have attempted to attribute more historic, political, and racial responsibility to the show than is warranted – this is a show that’s described as a fictional political thriller. This has rendered most of the criticisms irrelevant or moot at best. Below are a few of the arguments I take issue with:

    1) “Olivia is the quintessential Mammy, Jezebel, and Tragic Mulatto, wrapped into one.” Most of this is an absolutely baseless assertion, using incendiary labels without clear reason or justification.

    – To reason that Olivia is a “mammy” because “she cleans up the messes of white men” is a lazy and fallacious conclusion. Olivia is a professional “fixer”. That’s what she does – and she’s earned respect for doing it well in Washington. Olivia hires her services to (usually) high profile clients in powerful positions. She is paid well and is free to accept or reject jobs. If her clients happen to be predominantly white men, that doesn’t speak ill of Olivia or make her a “mammy”– it’s the state of the union. She’s just doing her job.

    – The only point that has any semblance of credence is that Olivia is a Jezebel. No one denies this – in fact, it is a key part of Olivia’s complexity as a character. Part of what makes Scandal interesting is that Olivia is scandalous herself, and it presents a conflict for her (and the audience). Is she a Jezebel? Of course. It’s her biggest flaw (and I’m not celebrating it as a good thing) but that doesn’t make her any less accomplished or dynamic. Squeaky clean Mrs Huxtable, she certainly is not.

    – The critique refers to Olivia as a tragic Mulatto. What exactly makes her a tragic mulatto? The writers of this critique seems more hung up on Olivia’s racial make-up than Fitz or the White House. There is nothing tragic about her character, racially or otherwise. Again, I found this to be a thoughtless and insulting accusation.

    2) Olivia does her job “…while overlooking the needs of her own community”
    – For goodness sake, Olivia is not hired or elected to represent the black community, and she’s not an activist. In what capacity should she be addressing the needs of the black community? Why would you judge her for not playing a role that she was not hired or intended to play?

    3) “The real scandal is that we accept the interracial love affair of Olivia Pope and the Republican president without recognizing that the image of Powerful White men, who sexually use Black women, is not new or liberating.”

    – We (the forward thinking viewers, anyway) accept the interracial love affair between Olivia and Fitz because it’s 2013; and we clearly recognize that this is a relationship between two freely consenting (albeit conflicted) adults, both in powerful positions. Nobody’s being used here and nobody’s celebrating a new liberation – it is what it is. Olivia and Fitz are certainly not the first interracial couple to be on TV so no shocker there.

    A viewer can choose to look past the clichés to appreciate the complexities of their relationship – or they can dwell in the myopic interpretation of “Powerful white man using the disadvantaged black woman”, thus entirely missing the point. They’re obviously not colour-blind, but neither are they racially obsessed.

    4) “Olivia is the mistress and not the legitimate heir to the power and status of her White lover. Olivia’s position as mistress, echoes Sally Hemming’s affair with Thomas Jefferson.”

    – We get it – Olivia’s a Jezebel mistress. However, Olivia knows what it looks like – and her argument with Fitz referencing Jefferson and Hemming suggests that she DOES recognize a historical context. However, as Fitz pointed out, that context does not define their relationship. Who are you to say that it must?

    – Olivia is under no illusions about her real or perceived position in this relationship. Mistress or one-true-love, she is where she is and she’s dealing with the implications as and when they surface. Olivia’s not sitting at home waiting for Fitz to make an honest woman of her. Olivia has her own wealth and has built her own name/reputation so she’s not worried about inheriting power or status from Fitz. Of course the relationship isn’t as she’d like for it to be – no one wants to feel like the dirty secret. However, she hasn’t shown that she’s feeling victimised by it.

    5) “… in a racialized society, the relationship [between Olivia and Fitz] is stripped of any racial meaning.”…. )…”the show remains profoundly silent on the issue of race”
    – Why does there need to be some banal racial meaning imposed on this relationship. Is it not possible for two people of different races to fall in love, recognizing that they are racially different, and just get on with the relationship? If two intelligent people are idealistic and secure enough to enter into an interracial relationship – they don’t have to wax eloquent about its virtues or debate the (dis)approval of anybody else if they don’t feel the need. It’s not always necessary to drag a racial elephant into the room if there genuinely isn’t one.

    6)…”[the show] ignores that racism and White Supremacy are core values and organizing tools of the Republican party. ”

    – Really? I wasn’t aware that the show was intended to also offer partisan political commentary.

    7) “As I became further involved in the series, watching episode after episode, season after season, I slowly became increasingly aware of the incredible deception of the producers who present the Republican party as supportive of democratic values …”

    – (see previous comment)

    8)”Another prevalent deception in this series is the representation of the
    Republican party as supportive and accepting of LGBT rights”

    – (see previous comment)

    – On these points 6, 7, and 8 – are you serious?!? Do you realize this is a T.V. show and it does not portray the reality of politics? If so you would not even think to use Scandal as a political barometer for real life political agendas.

    In closing, I’d just like to suggest to the writer of this critique to enjoy the show for what it is – a fictional political thriller, and not an expose on black history, politics, and race relations in America.

    –NG

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