A lot has changed since the first season of ABC’s “Scandal” which first premiered back in 2012. Characters have died and evolved, relationships have ended, the format of the series has shifted drastically, and most importantly, Olivia Pope is not the same woman we first met.
Now in its sixth season, the Washington, D.C.-based drama has found its footing once again after a rocky past couple of seasons. One thing that has changed considerably over the past few years is the way that “Scandal” addresses Olivia Pope’s identity as a Black woman. During the first season, Olivia Pope’s Blackness was nearly ignored.
In a recent interview with “Glamour,” the series’ star Kerry Washington spoke out about how “Scandal’s” stance on race has evolved and gotten stronger over time. Washington said, “In the first season it was as if Olivia Pope was raceless. There was no denying that Olivia was a Black woman, because I’m a Black woman, playing her in badass white trench coats that call to attention the fact that I’m not looking like anybody else on television. But we didn’t talk about her identity as a Black person.”
Washington is correct. When she was first cast on the drama five years ago, it was a watershed moment for entertainment. She was the first Black woman since Diahann Carroll’s 1968 role in “Julia” to be cast in a lead role on a primetime network drama. However, in the first few seasons of “Scandal,” Olivia Pope was just a badass fixer who “handled” crises. Her identity as a Black woman was never explicitly addressed.
That all changed with the series creator and showrunner Shonda Rhimes began infusing real-life headlines concerning race and race relations in with storylines for “Scandal.” Washington continued, “[Since then] the writers have become more and more willing to deal with race.”
In her “Glamour” interview, Washington specifically points to the fourth season of “Scandal” when Olivia Pope was kidnapped. This plot point occurred around the same time as the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 girls in Nigeria. Washington explained, “When Olivia was kidnapped, it was not lost on me that the fictional president of the United States was willing to go to war to save one Black woman at a time when hundreds of Black women were missing in Nigeria, and we were begging the world to pay attention.”
Since then Shonda Rhimes and Kerry Washington, have been adamant about saying Black lives and specifically, the lives of Black women matter on “Scandal.”