On Scandal, the United States of America might as well be called Olivialand. Olivia Pope, Fixer of Problems and Mother of Assassins, has been at the center of a number of both public and private national crises since the show first premiered in 2012. For what it’s worth, she and her team of semi-reformed spies and government assassins have also solved the majority of these problems as well.
The allure of Pope is that she is a woman of color in a position of immeasurable power. She’s extremely intelligent, speaks multiple languages, and is well-connected. She wears many hats (but viewers know her favorite is the proverbial "white hat") and provides a plethora of services for her friends and clients, including legal defense, branding, crisis management, campaign strategy and development, private investigation, and media training. She is the Black female character that many of us had been waiting for.
Ironically, the same things we love about Pope have also come back to bite Shonda Rhimes, who dreamt up the show and insisted a Black actress play the lead, in the form of criticism of the character. In the real world, many Black women are the Olivia Popes of their domains. They are often expected to take on burden of racism and sexism, in addition to the physical and emotional labor of taking care of those around them: educating, nurturing, leading, consoling, etc. It’s a trend that has repeated itself throughout history. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston refers to Black women as “the mules of the world.”
Olivia Pope doesn’t appear to be the exception, especially when we look at the blind spots in her life on Scandal. Self-care is a little overrated and an overused catchphrase these days, but when I ponder these questions about Pope, the main one that connects them is: Is she getting any care at all?