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The ‘Scandal’ Effect: How Shonda Rhimes’ Hit Show Changed Television

It’s seven years later, and I’m still wearing my white hat. I’ve been watching Scandal for as long as I can remember, so when the last episode aired last week, I knew my Thursdays would never be the same. From the beginning, Shonda Rhimes has been a pioneer in the television industry by expanding representation for women and people of color, allowing them to play strong and powerful lead roles. Kerry Washington, who plays Olivia Pope, became the first black actress to lead a primetime show in 40 years, paving the way for many other women of color to dominate the silver screen. Grab your wine and popcorn as we revisit how Scandal has revolutionized television.

Representation for people of color

The show’s lead character, Olivia Pope, is a black woman who holds several positions of power throughout the show. Through Pope, Rhimes has defied stereotypes and provided a strong role model for people of color everywhere. In addition to Pope, there are plenty of other characters who are people of color, including Marcus Walker, Eli Pope and Huck. After Scandal aired, shows such as Jane the Virgin and How to Get Away with Murder also showed strong women of color as their lead characters.

Strong female characters

In Scandal, the women never take a back seat to any men. Pope runs her own business and practically runs the White House. We also get to see the first female president, Mellie Grant, take office. Not only does she have one of the toughest jobs in the country, but she is also a single mom. And of course, Olivia’s two best friends and co-workers Abby and Quinn are far from submissive. Quinn works as a spy for B6-13 while Abby works as the White House Press Secretary. The show often deals with women fighting to find their place in a male-dominated world.

A complicated gay character

Sometimes we like Cyrus and sometimes we don’t. Despite him being a controversial character, he differs from so many gay characters that we see on television. Cyrus is not a funny, flamboyant sidekick – he is a strong, power-hungry government employee. While we get to see his relationships, his sexuality does not define his character. Rhimes has also changed how LGBTQ+ people can be portrayed on television.

Commenting on our government and society

Much of Scandal correlates with what’s going on in politics currently. From the Black Lives Matter Movement to gun control and to women’s rights, Scandal has shone a light on some of the most important issues today. The only difference is that on Scandal, these issues get the attention that they deserve. It is clear that Rhimes has used Scandal as a way to call viewers to action to create real change. Rhimes has also discreetly criticized our current president through the character Hollis Doyle, a billionaire who decides to run for president.

Giving us an imperfect main character

Olivia Pope is far from perfect. She has flaws, a troubled past and a dark side that often comes out. Sometimes we love her and sometimes we hate her, but that’s exactly the point. Rhimes has created a character that we can all relate to. A character who feels like she always has to work for others, a character who sometimes feels like she’s under too much pressure and a character who doesn’t always make the best decisions (but at the end of the day, Pope is always our gladiator.)

An intense love story (that doesn’t take over the show)

Whether you’re team Fitz or team Jake, you know that Pope is no compliant girlfriend. Throughout her relationships, she does not let either man control her or make decisions for her. She wears the pants in most relationships that she pursues on the show. While the love stories are important to Scandal’s plot, they don’t take over the entire show. There is so much more to Pope’s character than being in a relationship.

Shocking us without fail

Scandal has left our jaws open for seven seasons. The show is full of unexpected twists, and every episode is intense until the very last second. Whether it’s killing a main character or finding out that they’re actually alive, Rhimes has left us at the edge of our seats.​Gifs Courtesy of Giphy

Emily Chaiet

Northwestern '20

Emily Chaiet is a senior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida studying journalism at Northwestern University. She is also pursuing a minor in sociology and a certificate in integrated marketing communications. In her free time she likes to rewatch the Office on Netflix and go to CycleBar. 
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