Black lives matter. They absolutely matter. I am a white woman so I have some trouble saying that Shonda Rhimes got it wrong on her hit show Scandal. Twitter blew up, as usual, and many were grateful to Rhimes for writing a hopeful ending though I couldn’t help but believe the ending missed it in the way that the entire episode missed it.
Olivia Pope is a strong black woman. She handles things. She went to the scene of a police shooting to handle things for a seemingly all-white police department. She seemed less affected by the dead teenager lying in the street than she did about how she could handle the situation, and quickly, to avoid blowback to the White House just blocks away. I had a hard time, as a white woman, watching a strong black female lead seem so unaffected by a teenager lying face down in the street.
The teen’s father shows up with a rifle and shoots in the air demanding they bring him the cop who shot his son. Really Shonda? Was there any way to convey the anger and grief of a father that didn’t include him holding cops at bay with a rifle? He then sets up a lawn chair over the dead body of his son as he demands justice. I cannot imagine any parent setting a lawn chair up over the dead body of their child, no matter how angry or grief-stricken.
I get that Scandal is often campy and Olivia tends to be over the top, but the all-white police department was either seriously inept and did not know how to do anything or they were racists seething with anger at the community they were meant to protect. Yes. I get it. There are too many shootings of unarmed black men. No. I’m not going to blame the black men or the black community. I’m going to ask when we are going to demand solutions instead of creating more division.
Then came Marcus Walker, the black community activist. Considering the different clichés and stereotypes Rhimes visited, it was interesting that Walker bore no resemblance to Al Sharpton. It was almost easy to miss him except for when Olivia was telling him that he couldn’t be there. Because only Olivia can be there. That changed when she realized the police were blocking the press because they wanted to go in with tear gas to disperse the crowd. Um, covering stuff up is part of Olivia’s job description. Suddenly she’s surprised that the press was being distracted or diverted. Remember that time she went to the press to tell them how she stole the election for Fitz? Oh right. Me neither.
But suddenly Olivia developed a conscience and stood with the protestors because she knew that, she, Olivia Pope, was untouchable. There lies the main problem with the vision that Shonda Rhimes had when trying to delve into such a sensitive topic. Olivia Pope was untouchable not because she is a strong black woman but because who she was sleeping with, the President of the United States. With that comes power. Isn’t that sort of what many of these protests have been about? The inequity?
There are other issues though. Olivia Pope, despite being a black women, does not have any black friends. Not only does Olivia Pope not have one black friend, but both of her lovers are powerful white men. She was there to save those white men, not get justice for a black teenager. She promised to deliver the Attorney General, as if any of those people there would have ever been able to do that without her access or a very bold community activist. Without meaning to, Rhimes highlighted how much class is a part of this racial equation.
Then there is the pretty much all white cast. Yes, the female lead is a black woman, but the only other black characters? A corrupt government agent who murdered a child as payback, her mother, the terrorist, and a black Gladiator killed off because of his own off-screen troubles. When is the last time Shonda Rhimes looked around the White House she created and realized how, well, how white it is?
Is it possible for a character like Olivia Pope to have a sudden epiphany? Sure. But acknowledge it. Acknowledge just how out of touch she is, how out of touch her whole world seems to be before having her march in to save the day because at the end of the day, Olivia was not there for justice. She was there to protect all of the white people she runs with.
The episode ended with the teen’s father crying in the arms of the POTUS. Rhimes called it hopeful. I guess it’s hopeful if the next black kid who gets shot by a cop happens to run into the President’s mistress.
Black lives matter. They should matter all of the time, not just when it’s convenient, not even for the sake of a storyline.