Kerry Washington's 'Scandal' Is Way Overdue
Shonda Rhimes makes history with ABC's new drama
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of the Loop 21.
I’ll be the first to admit that I had April 5, 2012 marked on my calendar for nearly two months when I heard that ABC would be airing it's new primetime show "Scandal" featuring veteran actress Kerry Washington. I was ecstatic that I’d finally get to watch a show of substance with one of my favorite people, based on the career of a real African-American woman in politics and created by another woman of color Shonda Rhimes.
I stopped for a moment when I heard the news to reflect on how many hour-long dramas there had been on television with a black woman in the lead and it wasn’t many, a handful at most. There was Jada Pinkett-Smith on TNT’s short-lived "Hawthorne," Jill Scott on HBO’s "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," Teresa Graves in 1974 on ABC’s "Get Christie Love!" and now "Scandal." That makes four. And out of those four shows, only one is created, written and executive-produced by a black woman or person of color period (Rhimes).
So, with all this new knowledge, I tuned in last Thursday night ready to be mesmerized because anything that Rhimes touches seems to be magic (I’m also a "Grey’s Anatomy" fan and an occasional "Private Practice" viewer). What I saw was more than amazing; it was brilliant. Instead of seeing the usual ruckus of black women pulling out each others' weaves, arguing over a no-good man, eating, drinking and then doing it all over again on reality TV, I was able to turn on a good scripted show and watch someone who looks like me (OK, maybe not exactly like me or at all, but you know what I mean).
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Although, I can’t exactly relate to the life of Washington's character Olivia Pope - based on the real-life crisis communication manager Judy Smith -- I sure am thankful for her. I watched with pride as Washington glided across the screen, looking beautiful. I bopped my head as I listened to the classic soul music that Rhimes and her team had so intricately placed throughout the show. There was no drink-throwing, name-calling, degrading or looking down on each other for the show to be entertaining.
Instead, there was a black woman calling the shots, with a good story line while her diverse cast followed suit. And no, Washington doesn’t play a character without flaws, which is why she’s so appealing. The show flows at what Washington described on Twitter as the “Shonda Pace.” It moved so fast and kept me engaged that even when the commercials came on, I didn’t want to move from the spot on my couch in fear that I would miss some new twist to the story. It really was that good.
I logged online the next day looking forward to what I knew would be positive reviews and incredibly high ratings from the media and viewers. Instead of positive feedback, I saw more than enough negativity about "Scandal" to leave me in shock. These writers and viewers couldn’t possibly have watched the same thing that I had watched, right? According to reviewers on Vulture, Change the Channel and UncleBarky, "Scandal" wasn’t just bad, it was awful. I took a second to play Devil’s Advocate and thought of the shows out there that are similar to "Scandal" -- such as "The West Wing," "CSI," "Law & Order" and "Revenge." The only thing that makes this show so drastically different from the other comparable primetime hits is that it's leading character is a black woman.
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I’m hoping that Washington being the leading character has nothing to do with the reviews, and I hope the fact that she is having an on-screen love affair with a white man has nothing to do with it either. We have moved past that in 2012, haven’t we? I hope that the negative reviews and the “modest ratings” (as some sites are referring to it) for the premiere (7.4 million viewers) don’t keep people from all walks of life from tuning in because we need just that to make this show last and to set the precedent for more shows like it with actors of color playing the lead.
A show like "Scandal" is not only necessary -- it’s required, so that another 38 years (not counting "Hawthorne" and "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," because they were so short-lived) don’t pass by before we see a woman of color playing the lead role on a broadcast network. Rhimes and Washington help negate the very awful image that black women have in the media with the constant neck-rolling and fist-blowing that’s filling our airwaves on a daily basis. "Scandal" shows and proves that black women (and men -- hi, Columbus Short!) can play a variety of characters besides the wife or mother on a funny sitcom, the token black friend, or the out-of-control reality star. We can run the boardroom, be the chief of surgery, solve an international crisis, check the President of the United States, or be the most sought after crisis communication manager in the country. Actually, we can do it all.
Thanks Ms. Rhimes for reminding the world, that we’re not one dimensional, we’re extraordinary.