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“It’s Handled”: A Look at Scandal in the TV Canon

Gladiators, rejoice! There is only three weeks until we are once again graced with the presence that is Olivia Pope. For those unfamiliar with ABC’s Scandal, it is a political thriller that centers around Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, a crisis manager with bad-ass team of lawyers (aka Gladiators in Suits) in Washington D.C.  

Scandal has become one of the hottest network primetime dramas. Gladiators (the name of the show’s fandom) are notorious for kicking back on a Thursday night with a glass of red wine (possibly in a white pant suit) and watching the White House drama unfold. You may also find them with Twitter open on their phone, so they can live tweet along with fellow fans and the cast. The show’s integration of social media has spurred countless articles and practically saved the show from being cancelled. 

Scandal has also drew attention to itself for another reason: its resonation with African Americans. It is quite uncommon to see TV shows, especially a network primetime show, center around African American characters, let alone an African American woman. There have been comedic family favorites, such as CBS’s The Jeffersons (1975-1985), NBC’s The Cosby Show (1984-1992), ABC/CBS’s Family Matters (1989-1998), NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996), Disney’s That’s So Raven (2003-2007), and TBS’s Tyler Perry’s House of Payne (2006-2012), but Scandal was the first network drama to have an African American woman lead since Teresa Graves in Get Christie Love! which debuted in 1974 on ABC (‘A Show Makes Friends and History’). It is even more than that, however; it is a TV show that centers around an African American woman, and race is not at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Yes, we recognize that she is black and that her relationship with President Fitzgerald Grant is interracial, but we don’t define her based solely on her race. She is not constantly pushing her race in other people’s faces nor using it to victimize herself. She does her work, pursues relationships, and just lives her life. Shonda Rhimes (the creator of the show and a black woman herself) seamlessly acknowledges Olivia Pope’s race while allowing her to stand as her own character, one that is as complex and complicated as the rest of us. In the words of Olivia Pope, “It’s handled.”

In our white, patriarchal society, our standards often dub black women as weak, because being black and being a woman makes you a double minority. Black women, especially in media, are often reduced to three archetypes: the asexual Mammy, the hypersexual Jezebel, and the tragic Mulatto. They are all very one-dimensional, often revolving around their sexualization. These archetypes have been engrained in our society since blackface minstrelsy was popular, and it has been hard to escape them. Scandal challenges these norms, which is what makes the show so exciting. 

It seems timely that Scandal comes back from its winter hiatus as Black History Month concludes. It seems to be a good representative of how we can build off what past generations have given us to create a better, albeit a slightly scandalous future.

You can catch Scandal on ABC, on Thursdays at 9:00pm, resuming on February 27.

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