“Scandal” defined an era of “its handled” for Black millennial women
I started watching Scandal when it first aired in 2012. I had been out of college for one year and was still trying to navigate a world that wasn’t made for black women. Now, after seven seasons and more than 120 episodes, the political drama has officially ended; however, it's legacy will remain forever.
Kerry Washington headlining "Scandal,” created by Shonda Rhimes, was historical. She was the first black woman in forty years to star in a prime-time television show, and her character was a highly educated and poised black woman that people in the highest levels of their careers called to fix their problems. She helped presidents get elected to office, and she did all of this in Washington D.C., a place where the rest of the world is essentially run, was simply everything. And on top of that, she always looked fly doing it! She did not play about her hand bags, coats, or wide-legged pants.
I cannot understate the importance of watching Washington star in this show on ABC. Six years later, after witnessing and experiencing for myself how black women make things happen everywhere and, essentially, in all fields, the magnitude of her “it’s handled” persona completely defined what all black women knew for decades: We were and are the backbone of everything.
So much of “Scandal’s” brilliance was normalizing what white people had previously seen as “exceptional.” Black women could and did run the world. In the world of Shonda Rhimes, also known as Shondaland, diversity has always been alive. It wasn’t just a buzzword for her — she made it a point to always cast inclusively because that’s the world we have always lived in. Seeing it on TV was just a part of daily life, and after two successful shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” having a black womyn lead in her show wasn’t groundbreaking —it was as things should have always been.
We know that representation in media matters, and for Black women “Scandal” was always about black female empowerment. Because of “Scandal” and Rhimes’ dominance of Thursday nights on ABC, a generation of black women had a space to celebrate ourselves and this black woman that we were rooted for despite and because of the sometimes silly and unethical things she did.
Most of our twenties are about finding ourselves. My generation of millennial black woman had a character on TV that not only looked like us, but she was also something to aspire to. So many people have described Olivia Pope as this complex woman who wasn’t scripted or always a gladiator and morally ethical. That isn’t groundbreaking — that’s who we are as people. The brilliance of Olivia Pope was that she made tough choices for herself and her gladiators that had real consequences, and she tried her best. She reinforced this idea that we can be bosses, handle complex situations, do the right thing, and make mistakes. She wasn’t a stereotype or a token black woman, she was a real human being with flaws.
“Scandal’s” brilliance also lied in its portrayal of black parenting. Rowan Pope, played by Joe Morton, and Maya Pope, played Khandi Alexander, were not perfect parents, but they showcased the impossible job Black parents have raising young black sons and daughters. “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have,” Rowan would tell Olivia over and over again throughout the seven seasons of the series. Black parents have instilled this same concept in us — that you must be the absolute best in everything you do to get half of what white people have, but that your success and greatness won’t curb the racism, sexism or misogyny that you’ll still confront in this world. Olivia Pope had the respect of her peers, but at the end of the day, she was still a black woman and her parents pushed her (albeit crazily) to make a name for herself and shine her blackness through a bleak world where we don’t belong.
"Shonda Thursday’s” became a staple part of the culture. I looked forward to Shonda Thursday’s like I did Christmas Day, the last day of the school semester or sex in the morning. It was a movement by black women supporting our own and showing the world that shows starring and written by black women would sell. Watching Kerry Washington every Thursday for seven years has been so important to my growth and my spirit. I would walk into offices, restaurants, and even my own home like a bad bitch thanks to Olivia. We took over an entire day of the week for our empowerment and celebrated the beauty of blackness.
For seven seasons, I rooted for Olivia Pope like she was my sister. I needed her to succeed because like me, other black women need me to succeed. Kerry Washington’s success in “Scandal” opened doors for black women in television and entertainment that had been closed due to the fact that companies thought a black women couldn’t lead a prime time show or drive ratings.
We know now that black women are the most influential demographic of people in pop culture, but this turn of events is largely due to Washington’s role on “Scandal.” People have finally begun to realize that black women are a force to reckon with, and while the show is now over, Olivia Pope’s place in our culture is forever stamped in our “it’s handled” attitude.