Kerry Washington Explains How Olivia Pope Went From "Raceless" To A Black Woman The President Would Go To War For
If you've been watching Scandal since the series premiere in 2012, then you're aware of just how much the Washington, D.C.-set drama has evolved over the years. Now in its sixth season, Scandal is a show that proudly addresses its leading lady Olivia Pope's identity as a Black women. It also delves into real life racial issues, like the devaluation of Black lives. But that wasn't always the case — in the early days, the D.C. fixer's Blackness wasn't even discussed in the show.
In a new interview with Glamour, cover star Kerry Washington reflects on how Scandal's stance on race has shifted and strengthened over time. "In the first season it was as if Olivia Pope was raceless," Pope said. "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's right: Scandal celebrated Pope's identity as a woman who kicked ass at her job and didn't take any bullshit from anyone. And while, like Washington said, Olivia Pope was indeed a Black woman who kicked ass at "handling it," that aspect of her identity wasn't something explicitly talked about.
That changed when creator and showrunner Rhimes began to fold the real-life headlines and conversations surrounding race into the increasingly bold and popular show. "[Since then] the writers have become more and more willing to deal with race," Washington continued.
She specifically pointed out how the season 4 story arc in which Pope was kidnapped coincided with the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 girls from a Nigerian school in 2014. While, at the time, some people criticized the show for the outlandish scenario, the über dramatic plot line actually made a powerful statement about how we value — or how we should value — the lives of Black women. "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," Washington explained.
In other words, while leaders in the real world were failing to act, Scandal was showing a different kind of response. "Shonda was saying, 'The life of a Black woman matters,'" Washington added.
As for how much longer we'll get to see the actress continue to play Pope and tackle more racial issues on Scandal? Only Rhimes knows that. "It’s not really up to me. It’s up to Shonda and to the network," Washington said. "Shonda has said from the beginning that she kind of knows how it ends. So I’m trusting her to guide the arc." As are we.