Last night, Shonda Rhimes did the damn thing. No, it wasn’t the jaw-dropping moment when Fitz went OG on the press and showed up at Olivia’s doorsteps, proclaiming he was gonna take his girlfriend out on a date. Instead, it was the unapologetic way Shonda addressed racial and gender microaggressions executed by media outlets.
There’s been plenty of “preach” moments on Scandal – two in particular stand out in my mind. There was Abby’s monologue that single handedly dropped the mic on the sexist double standards women face in positions of power.
“Every article about me has your name [Leo] somewhere in it because apparently, there’s this rule: In order to mention my name they also have to report to the world that there’s a man who wants me. My work, my accomplishments, my awards — I stand at the most powerful podium in the world, but a story about me ain’t a story unless they can report on the fact that I am the girlfriend of DC fixer Leo Bergen. Like it validates me, gives me an identity, a definition.” -Abby
Then there was the “The Lawn Chair” episode, inspired by current events in Ferguson, Missouri, that addressed institutionalized racism and police brutality.
Now I have a third episode to add to my list of Shonda Rhimes mic drops.
SPOILER ALERT: proceed with caution.
After Olivia confessed to being the President’s mistress in last week’s episode, Abby was forced to play her big joker – slut shamming Olivia Pope – in order to eradicate the issue. Of course, the media happily ran with this story because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a good sex scandal?
For days, Olivia sat in her apartment while media outlets tore her apart, showering her with a storm of insults, portraying her as a power-hunger slut and conniving, angry black woman. While some Americans were offended by Olivia’s audacity as a black woman to feel entitled, others praised her for pulling herself up by her bootstraps out of the ghetto. Without question, Olivia’s blackness defaults her privileged background to roots in the “hood.”
To help Pope & Associates stay above water, Marcus Walker, the activist from Scandal’s “The Lawn Chair” episode, was recruited as a gladiator. While Quinn and Huck wanted Pope & Associates to lay low, handling calls, denying allegations, Walker insisted on pulling out his boxing gloves to square off with the media. He cited news outlets for broadcasting coded racialized and gendered language that perpetuate a white noise of unwarranted negative stereotypes about people of color and women.
For example, a reporter commented on Olivia’s ability to articulate well. On the surface, this may seem like a compliment, but in Olivia’s profession, being able to articulate to the media is not news worthy, it’s expected; however, the reporter felt Olivia’s ability to speak well, coupled with her blackness, added news value to the story. ?
What’s truly news worthy is Shonda’s ability to not only create opportunities for black actresses (I’m still snapping for Viola Davis’s historic Emmy award), but also to use her gift to tactfully blow the whistle on how women and people of color are portrayed in the media. I see what you are doing Shonda Rhimes, I see you. ???