Kerry Washington stated that if the President, “Fitzgerald Grant” on Scandal were Black she wouldn’t have accepted the portrayal of “Olivia Pope” because it would be disrespectful.
I thought If the president on the show is Black, I will not do the show. Because to me, it was too important a moment. I didn’t want to do anything that compromised my relationship with the President or that made it seem like I had an insider view on the Obama presidency. I thought that would be so disrespectful and so against all the work that I had done.
I understand the allure of pretending that Kerry must “hate” Black men and solely thrives on being a love interest of White men. It doesn’t matter that she’s portrayed a love interest of characters that Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker, Black men, have portrayed. This works perfectly with the popular narrative that Black women hate Black men and the show should be off the air for that reason since it must be the only reason why Black women watch it. However, regardless of how alluring this misinterpretation is, it doesn’t actually surmise what her point of view seems to be. (I saw some people via Twitter engage this misinterpretation.)
I think “Broomhilda” from Django Unchained is a more problematic character than “Olivia Pope” and NOT because the former is a slave and the latter has a “fancy job” and is free. I understand the lack of critical thinking involved in such a hyperbolic stance as to why it’s a popular one. However, it’s not my stance. I’ve already written in detail why I don’t view her former role as the empowering feminist role that she sees it as and why I am not compelled by Django Unchained at all. Quentin Tarantino using a slave plantation for the filming, Kerry being whipped—the entire thing is where the disrespect is, not “Olivia Pope” possibly having an affair with a Black President.
However, let’s be real; we’ve had ONE Black President in real life, art imitates life, and Kerry Washington has worked with President Obama on his campaigns and in his administration. Her juxtaposition to him in real life would create unnecessary spectacle for his administration and the LIMITED space she already has to explore her character because she’s a Black woman would face major shrinkage. Further, many people’s concept of “Black love” as projected from their psyches to the media means that anything except married, heterosexual, monogamous is automatic offense and reduction to stereotype, no matter how nuanced and dynamic the characters actually are. The show would fail. I would probably still watch as long as the entire cast remained as powerful and compelling as they are now, but ultimately, the drama caused by some people’s unfulfilled desires in real life and the politics of respectability, which people already use to choke and demonize “Olivia Pope” would increase tenfold with a Black “Fitz.”
People STILL want this show to portray FLAT “positive” characters that they think leave no room for White criticism through the White gaze. Any presence of negative attributes, no matter how dynamic the Black woman character is means the character becomes one, two or all of the common stereotypes: mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire. It doesn’t matter if the character in totality is not these stereotypes. Any time she fixes a problem the audience can yell out “mammy!” Anytime she is physically intimate with “Fitz” or “Edison” the audience can hell out “Jezebel!” Anytime she argues with high powered men the audience can yell out “Sapphire.” The only problem is that the audience is DEAD WRONG. The audience has now gone past examining the totality of a character to labeling any single action as the entire character morphing into a stereotype, even when she has not. And, this lazy and myopic labeling is why based on watching the reaction to this character, I doubt any Black woman character will ever be acceptable, no matter how human she is, no matter how much work is put into her, no matter how dynamic she is, no matter how she easily transcends these three stereotypes or being boringly flatly positive. It makes sense though because Black women as people aren’t deemed acceptable either.