Yep. I think the same 2x as good for 1/2 as much applies in acting/theatre as well. Now, I did not statistically prove this in the way she proposed, but for a few days last year I started compiling a list of well-known Black women who are actors and celebrities and their education and that list was looking quite nice. (I never finished it or posted it because I really didn’t want to deal with the backlash that comes whenever I discuss Black women and education; didn’t have the energy.) I…couldn’t find the same (in terms of school rank, level of degree or it being as common as for Black women who are actors) for comparable White women who are actors. Even the category “recognized actors” makes me wonder how to determine this since women of colour are regularly ignored and regularly tokenized. Thus, I wonder if the few that we see are already so overqualified just to get noticed that such a study would never really compare equally recognizable actors between Black women and other women of colour versus White women.
Very intriguing though. I would love to see the results of this.
While all of the characters on Scandal are flawed in ways that are incredibly human and flawed in ways that definitely speak to the intensity of TV drama that most people only want to see from a distance, not actually experience, one thing that is clear is that mothers go hard for their children on Scandal.
In the most recent episode, season 3, episode 8, “Vermont Is For Lovers,” viewers saw more of “Maya Pope,” the mother that “Olivia Pope” thought was deceased from a plane crash that she presumed was caused by a mechanical failure but later learned that the plane was shot down, presumably by “Fitz” when he was a Navy pilot when “Olivia” was just 12 years old. He was under the orders of B613 Command who is “Olivia’s” father, “Rowan/Eli Pope.” Remingnton, this season’s scandal (as season 2’s scandal was Deception) is slowly unfolding as “Olivia” and “Jake” do the work of unraveling the questions and fogginess of this whole debacle. Viewers still have a ton to learn here as we learn a bit more each week.
There’s a scene that is incredibly disturbing in this episode where “Maya Pope” bites her own wrists until she hits an artery. On first look it’s easy to assume that she is attempting suicide, but paying attention to the first scene where she is desperate to see her daughter, her now adult child “Olivia” that she has not seen in over two decades and argues with “Eli” about this, one soon realizes that she simply is harming herself to be moved to an infirmary. She wants to escape. One of the easier ways to escape prison (and this is portrayed in many shows and films) is to be moved to an infirmary where there’s more holes in security. “Maya” does this because she cannot wait a moment longer to see “Olivia.” It has been too long. We still don’t know why she was removed from the plane (where it was originally presumed that she died) or why she has been kept alive and incarcerated for so long, but assumptions of “terrorist” or “traitor” to the U.S. has floated around some Scandal fans on Twitter. (Now, she did fight and sedate a doctor to escape so I’m guessing that she has to be past B613 herself or something equally as dangerous.) We don’t know if she is the one who meant to abandon “Olivia” (she did mention that she told “Eli” to take care of “Olivia” in the past) while “Eli” did a piss poor job of connecting with “Olivia” (which can clearly be seen when he only has newspaper clippings to offer “Maya” and no warm family photographs and also when he alludes to providing for “Olivia” financially is the same as love and connection; uh no) but we do know that her desperation to see “Olivia” before “Eli” could take her out of the country was palpable. The shock on “Olivia’s” face when she saw “Maya” was priceless. While it seems melodramatic and even a tad bit on the zombie side for her to do what she did, most viewers have not been incarcerated without seeing their child for two decades and without seeing anyone else really. Maybe we would be that desperate too. I doubt “Maya” saw anyone but “Eli” this whole time (other than prison staff). She’s obviously in a B613 prison, not some federal facility. ‘Maya Pope” went hard! She had to see her child.
This amazing episode (a definite improvement over that awful mess of a tragic dip last week; so glad we’re back to excellence for a moment) was directed by Ava DuVernay, who slayed. Genius. I could see and feel her vision here. And even she recognized the desperation and commitment by “Maya Pope” as a mother when she tweeted the following:
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC)
"Maya Pope" wasn’t the only one who made a great sacrifice as a mother in this episode. "Congresswoman Josephine Marcus" (portrayed by Lisa Kudrow) recently shared her story of her mid-teens pregnancy and how her mother raised her baby as her sister. Ever since that confession, her daughter has gone off the rails. She fights "Olivia" (who manages the presidential campaign for "Josephine") every step of the way and remains hostile. She took things too far in this episode when she faked a theft by the opposing campaign of "Samuel Reston" and against "Olivia’s" direction, mentioned the theft to the news. Once "Josephine" found out about this, she took the rap for her daughter and ended her campaign. There goes the same candidate who read "James" and patriarchy in general for filth on sexism and was dedicated to running for president as a female candidate, ending her dream for the immature reactionary nonsense of her daughter who totally fucked "Harrison" and then tossed him to the side. (I could see that coming a mile away. When he read her ass for filth for talking to the media, she looked aroused.) This mother destroyed her career, credibility and dream for her daughter. The guilt of hiding her daughter’s identity all of this time and the pain it caused "Candace" made this choice worth it. She went hard! Cause…wow. End the campaign itself? Sacrifice. Both "Maya" and "Josephine" made mistakes and were not present for their daughters in the way they should have been so sacrificing for them seemed like the only loving thing to do.
There’s been great instances of maternal love throughout the seasons with smaller characters. “Velma” acted as a surrogate mother and mentor to “Olivia.” This is why “Olivia” forgiving “Fitz” for literally putting his hand on “Velma” to murder her is so outlandish and makes Olitz less appealing than eleven months ago when I could see both the good and bad and knew what drew fans into Olitz, though I stopped shipping them before as well. The genius of this episode is that Ava DuVernay directed an incredibly passionate and visually remarkable love scene between Olitz. It did not feel dirty or cheap despite their actual relationship not being worth a cent at times. Even so, it is remarkable and loving that he took their dream so seriously as to build something concrete—a home—to solidify that dream of being together, no matter how impossible or repugnant that dream becomes at times.
In season one, “Sandra Harding” had to do something that most people cannot do in a rape culture. Turn her rapist son “Travis” in. She could not defend what she knew he did. And after trying to buy out a woman who portrayed herself as a rape survivor to get justice for the real rape victim who was her friend, “Olivia” realized that her white hat moment approached. She had to talk “Sandra” into doing what is right. “Sandra” went against her son, and ultimately for her son. There is no way she could condone what he did. She had to face that truth. Another moment of recognition for maternal love in season one was the dictator’s wife “Carolina” faking a kidnapping to escape the domineering abuse and control of her political dictator husband. She even accepted the pain of knowing that her own son preferred his father over her but knew she had to make the right choice for herself and children, even if it meant her own safety was at risk. Ultimately, “Olivia” and her team faced their fears and stood up to him, protecting this mom and helping her make the choice to escape this man a reality.
In season two, the merging worlds of the wife and mistress of a Civil Rights leader, “Pastor Marvin Drake” collided and though their fight followed a similar path of the angry wife and the vengeful mistress, it ultimately came to be about their children and how both of them loved the same man, not as enemies but simply as women. They both thought about their children’s father’s legacy and decide protecting it, even with deception and thinking of their children’s feelings mattered more to them. They sacrificed the claims that they felt they had to “Marvin” and looked at the bigger picture. And the sheer parallels between “Nancy” and “Anna” and “Mellie” and “Olivia” in those scenes were magic and profound. They even had their pep talks, that were of course projection, with the wife and mistress, respectively. Later in the season when the daughter of “Hollis Doyle” was kidnapped, her mother immediately cares and resorts to her maternal love even knowing how awful her daughter has been in the past while “Hollis” remains skeptical. “Hollis” finally accepted that her kidnapping could be real but when it turned out that he was right about her intentions themselves, her mother never wavered. Her love was there but she accepted that her daughter chose “Hollis’” offer of $20 million dollars over coming back to the family with a forgiving heart and a commitment to changing her ways.
Now “Mellie” is defintely not the picture of maternal warmth. She even said “nobody likes babies” to “Cyrus” when his adoptive baby and her and “Fitz’s” new baby were both fairly new. At the same time, she took “Fitz” to task in defense of their children (who were at boarding school and did not want to come home for a weekend to spend with “Fitz”). She read his ass for straight garbage in season 2 when he was heavy into the booze and his own self-pity over the loneliness he felt after he pushed “Olivia” away once he knew the truth about Defiance:
You’re not their father anymore. And you’re not ‘Fitz’ anymore. You know who you are? You know who you’ve become? You’re ‘Big Jerry.’ You’re your father. Everybody in this White House, ‘Cyrus’ and me included, tiptoe around trying to figure out how to get on your good side. But you don’t have a good side. You’ve turned into your father. So, you should understand how your children feel considering how much you hated your dad. They didn’t want to come and so I told them they didn’t have to. Deal with it. Put another glass of scotch on top of it and just deal with it.
"Mellie" might not be the warmest person ever (I like her though) and she’s frequently written off as a villain by some viewers (which made last week’s episode especially angering) but she was not going to have “Fitz” acting like an abusive drunk towards their children. She went hard in their defense and gave “Fitz” a good dose of ol shut yo spoiled prince ass up.
Recently when I wrote about some of my favorite male television characters in general, I mentioned how in the case of Scandal, I really watch this show for the women. I do. Of course “Olivia” is a favorite, but I find everyone (well…except “Quinn” who stresses me out) even “Sally” fascinating as far as the female characters go.
Motherhood is often a place that becomes a battleground for feminist politics and place where people project a lot of sexism. Too caring and be called not feminist enough (especially for Black women; which is tiring since mammies are loved but Black mothers are not); too cold and be called an abusive mother. None of this speaks to the complexity of motherhood. I am not a mom but I truly enjoyed the way some of these maternal stories played out. Mothers on Scandal make difficult sacrifices (that real life mothers often have to make) but ultimately they still get to live their lives and have the power to make such choices. They chose to sacrifice. They chose to protect. This is what many mothers do though all don’t have the class privilege and agency of the mothers on this show. It’s easy to overlook this dimension of the show, but the desperation (albeit melodramatic; it is TV now) that “Maya Pope” conveyed in this most recent episode was a symbol of the sacrifices that mothers often make, on screen and off. Certainly neither “Maya” nor “Josephine” nor any of the other mothers on Scandal that I mentioned are perfect mothers; far from it. But when push came to shove, they chose sacrifice over power—and found power in sacrifice, and this simply made me think of what many great mothers regularly do in real life.
Hi, thanks for the previous fanmail.
As far as “especially” American culture? Nah. There’s literally no place (with mass media) on the globe with consistent positively dynamic images of Black women or no infiltration of White supremacy, racism, capitalism, sexism, misogynoir and imperialism and/or colonialism which shape those images. I lean away from the “especially” label insofar as the sheer reach of the media here is expansive and thereby can be more destructive but I don’t know if it is inherently “worse” depictions. Only Black women in the places in which they live can say how they interpret the media in the places in which they live as “worse” or “better” etc.
Is there a way to change these one-dimensional sexualized images? Yes and no. Yes in that the more Black women learn resistance, the better. By resistance I mean that we become conscious of the fact that these tropes, stereotypes, controlling images and attacks are all based on bullshit ass lies as perpetuated by White supremacy, racism, sexism, misogyny, transmisogyny and misogynoir. And as we learn the areas which we have privilege (for those it applies to; there are Black people with almost no privilege) and are complicit in oppression of others, we can embrace the intersectional experiences we have and name them (which that naming will of course be plagiarized and appropriated). Yes in that as more of us become aware and create our own safe spaces (which will be relentlessly attacked by White men, White women, Black men and even some non-Black people of colour) to share, learn, create and thrive, we will see change in our own perspective which liberates. We’ll know that those media attacks are meant to be propaganda and don’t reflect anything about who we truly are.
No in that are people and institutions going to stop attacking us and oppressing us, probably not. The use of sexual stereotypes has been tremendously devastating for Black women in America in the last few centuries and many of them created here impact Black women globally.
We need media that is not one-dimensional “Jezebel” images and also not one-dimensional “positive” images that exist solely to reject all negativity of controlling images yet don’t truly reflect the culture and texture and nuances of Black womanhood. And sex is a big part of many Black women’s lives. So that shouldn’t have to be erased, but also shouldn’t be portrayed in a way that only reinforces the status quo and misogynoir via White supremacy.
Thanks for the kind words, re: my writing. Take care.
[trigger warning: sexual assault, misogyny, misogynoir]
Before I even start, since few people read more than four sentences of an essay—if that—before filling reblogs and Disqus comments with filth, let me note this: I am long time fan of Scandal, loved the show from day one and regularly write about the show. This essay is not about hating on the show. It’s quite serious actually.
In last night’s episode, season 3, episode 7 (“Everything’s Coming Up Mellie”) there was a sexual assault scene. I don’t even want to discuss how utterly fucking awful the double entendre of the episode’s title is; the titles are usually double entendre or have puns so there is no way to pretend that this one did not. The episode included a lot of flashbacks, about 15 years back, and revealed the happier days of the marriage of “Fitz” and “Mellie” (a much different picture from what their marriage is like now) and a marriage damaged by much more than “Olivia” and “Fitz” being in love and long before they knew of her existence. During these flashbacks, viewers learn that “Fitz’s” disgusting, abusive, reprehensible patriarch of a father “Jerry” sexually assaulted “Mellie.” It was traumatic to watch, there was no warning anywhere that I saw on the web to prepare for it to be there and it did absolutely nothing for the story itself. Nothing.
Further, “Mellie” seemed all better the next day, which speaks to realistic compartmentalization of pain, which some survivors can attest to, but at the same time, seems to sweep what occurred under the rug. It got especially unbearable to watch because “Mellie” then uses the assault to get “Jerry” to apologize to “Fitz” as he runs for governor. Upon reflection of season 2, this is even more reprehensible because that exchange did not prevent “Jerry” from abusing “Fitz” during the Presidential run and even in death left “Fitz” broken, for which “Olivia” comforted him. Thus, the idea that this female character uses her sexual assault to protect her husband doesn’t even hold up in fiction let alone in a way that many viewers can process and all without a warning that this would occur in the episode in the first place.
Now, certainly I have discussed the intensity of the show—the moral relativism, the crime, the passion, the role of the government etc.—and did so in many posts and essays including one of my most recent essays, The Serious Politics of Scandal. Thus, I am not under the delusion that this show or any show should evade serious topics. Scandal has approached murder and even torture from a plethora of angles. I am still quite scarred from how torture related to The Patriot Act was used against “Huck” in season 2. But there was story in previous episodes that built up to that. Unlike this sexual assault scene, there is no murder scene or torture scene that was an out of the woods surprise and one that did not even support the story or make sense.
Other shows have warnings about sexual assault. Television shows are rated. Films are rated. Music is rated. Scandal fans who wanted a heads up are not being unreasonable and pulling this desire out of nowhere. As I mentioned in the aforementioned linked essay, what frightens us in real life, entertains us from a distance. Distance. That’s what allows difficult topics to be embraced without everyone wanting to dive off of a cliff after each episode of any show. Most people have not been tortured under The Patriot Act. While those scenes in season 2 were unbearable to watch as most violence is, there is a distance from that form of abuse where understanding how such violence occurs (not applauding it) can happen during the episode without it being a trigger. In a rape culture, however, there is no distance from sexual assault. It has been reality for many people, including me. There is no way that “surprise, sexual assault” on screen can be processed as nothing happening, especially in a show that for three seasons has not really had anything like this. We’ve seen murder. We’ve seen torture. We’ve seen emotional abuse. We’ve seen friendship, business relationships, love and heartbreak. This show is not Law and Order: Special Victims Unit where at least viewers know what will happen each week and without fail each week for 14 seasons there’s one rape or more in each episode. But on Scandal, this came out of nowhere, did nothing for the story and was handled poorly. It was beneath the Scandal writers. This, from a show where incredible monologues and dialogues that have challenged everything from sexism in the media to racism to the realities of extrajudicial torture and power have occurred to then throw a sexual assault scene in, handle the aftermath scenes poorly and have nothing to say about it being in the episode ahead of time—a show with a huge fan culture and multiple fan sites?
The only connections I could think to make: Back in season 2 when “Mellie” was horrified at seeing a drunk “Fitz” trying to fondle “Olivia” in the elevator; I wondered if this was a trigger for her, reminding her of being sexually assaulted by “Jerry.” I mean…she looked horrified beyond what many women might have written off as their husbands flirting, not assaulting. Also, in the flashback when “Jerry” yelled at “Fitz” alluding to the fact that he owns and made “Fitz,” it reminded me of “Mellie” saying the same thing (in season 2 in the present) to “Cyrus” about “Fitz,” as if it is suggesting that she is closing in on becoming the monster “Jerry” was. And that association doesn’t sit comfortably with me at all. Beyond this, I got nothin’.
And then what this means for “Mellie.” She had to be assaulted before she got “tough?” The broken woman who does feel then repairs herself into an ice queen at times and desperate at others? This particular characterization of “Mellie” in this episode read as “Black woman in Black pathology or Black theist films” to me and I easily recognized the “this will teach you” element to the scenes. Now this probably was not the intent because Scandal writers aren’t writing from that controlling image angle that emphasizes punishment and pathology for Black women. But the whole thing felt familiar and frightening to me despite the fact that “Mellie” is White. Though thinking of this happening to “Mellie’s” character is rough enough, I think it would’ve been unbearable for “Olivia’s” character. Over the cheering of people who hate the show and “Olivia Pope” to the noise of this anti-nuanced view of rape being the only interaction between White men and Black women, I would be exhausted.
The failure of this sexual assault scene is that there was no warning for viewers, no real purpose in the story, and the way the scenes unfolded after were rushed and sloppy. This episode felt sloppy and uncharacteristic of Scandal. It did not fit. Now certainly there are other things that I liked about this episode: hair and fashion as usual, “Mellie” and “Cyrus” scheming against “Sally” and her attempt to run for President, “Olivia” hanging up on “Fitz” and making Remington the Gladiators’ new case, irritating ass “Quinn” being inducted into B613, and most importantly finding out that “Maya Pope” is ALIVE! Everyone predicted this. But the way this sexual assault was presented and handled seems so beneath this show that my head is spinning. Rape was mentioned in previous episodes; remember “Olivia” had to convince a mother to turn in her rapist son in season 1. They also confronted the heavy and inaccurate stereotype of “Fitz” and “Olivia” being compared to President Thomas Jefferson raping his adolescent slave Sally Hemings. But both of these storylines were handled much better and with much more sense and connection to the show than “Jerry” assaulting “Mellie” was. The latter was atrocious and is my first time being severely disappointed in Scandal.
As Twitter is the place for live during episode Scandal discussion, easily producing 700K and more tweets per episode, the bullshit responses in reference to this sexual assault scene unfolded there. Black men who hate Scandal had their moments of vindication with some Black women finally being upset by the show we love because them hating Black women fans and interracial relationships means that a sexual assault scene with two White people is now…good? Because Black women who are survivors (and let’s think about who most Black women are assaulted by) felt anguish over viewing that scene and our pain provides Black men…pleasure? Wow. We are strangers then. Then of course there were those who said since real life rape has no trigger warning before it occurs, sexual assault on television should not either. Because…this makes sense? Human-controlled media with a history of ratings and controls should not have warnings used for this show because real life crime happens without a warning? How does this make sense to people? And finally, there were those who suggested that since this is not the “first” show with a sexual assault scene and since it is “just TV” people should not be “surprised” by it and get over it. This type of thinking facilitates rape culture. It’s used towards survivors, not just what happens on screen. I know because I see it regularly. Victim blaming is well woven into the fabric of American culture.
In the dark. Serious conversation preceding. Couch. Man I know. Wouldn’t listen to NO. Someone else in the house. Expects normal the next day. All too familiar. Painful.
It’s not a matter of removing serious topics from the show. Like I alluded to repeatedly, I can handle serious. But all serious topics are not created equally. Some need to be handled with care. And since precedent exists in television for handling sexual assault on screen with care, there really is no excuse for it not happening with this episode. Watch how easy this is: “Viewer advisory for sexual violence/assault.” Mention it on ABC website. Tweet that. Tell one of the fan sites to mention it. That’s all. So easy.
I feel some type of way about the show now. I am still going to watch next week since Ava DuVernay directs episode 8. I am familiar with her style and vision so I hope that whatever the hell happened with the writers this week will not ever occur again and her vision shines through. I’m basically trying to unsee this scene and focus on the fact that “Maya Pope” is alive and what will happen next. I feel derailed by last night’s episode and I hope that there’s a way that I can continue watching the show until its series finale. I am not so sure anymore.
(You need to be really, really careful before you respond to this if you do. Think about the gravity of what I have written. Do not cross me.)