It’s Handled: Thoughts on the End of Scandal by Phumuzile Mabasha

When I was 21, which was some time ago, my friend Pam and I were looking for some new shows to watch. We were recommended to watch HBO’s Girls and ABC’s Scandal. At the time I was wary to watch anything that involved Shonda Rhimes. I did give Scandal a try but I was not impressed. Girls on the other hand, was such an insane show that I continued watching till it ended this past April.

A year later, my friends encouraged me to watch Scandal again. Begrudgingly I did, and I surprisingly fell head over heels in love with it. The first 2 seasons of Scandal were insane, mind-blowing and I was thoroughly entertained. It was unrealistic at times, but it was something I had never seen on TV. I was hooked and could not wait for the third season. I finally found a Shonda Rhimes show that didn’t irritate me, and I liked Olivia.

I spoke too soon! As I continued watching the show it became frustrating. The Olitz relationship was not fun to watch at times because he treated her so badly. Then Papa Pope came into the mix and there were too many monologues. I felt as if I was watching a Shakespearean play. For 5 seasons I soldiered on and watched Scandal. There were times when it was great but times when it was so insufferable.  The truth of the matter is, there is so much TV out there that something had to give. I decided to end my love-hate relationship with Scandal, but especially my love-hate relationship with Olivia Pope. She became a character that constantly disappointed me.

That being said, I will not deny the impact that Scandal has had on TV in the 21st century. Scandal showed that there was a serious need for lead Black female roles. Scandal was annoying, frustrating, entertaining yet groundbreaking because it began the golden age of Black TV and Film. Olivia Pope was the first black female lead character on network television since 1974. Scandal began in 2012.  As much as I do not like Olivia Pope she was a character that many girls my age had never seen. She was not a slave or a baby mama or the best friend. Yes, there was Joan on Girlfriends but she wasn’t Olivia Pope. Olivia is a lawyer, college educated women, she owns her own business, she looks great in power suits and she’s a bad ass. Other than the whole side piece debacle with Fitz , Olivia is a woman that Black women needed to see and hear.

She’s a character that continued to break the stereotype of how Black women were represented on TV and in the media. When I would see Olivia Pope come and dominate the scene I felt empowered. I was in awe of her power, intelligence and confidence. It was nice to see and it was encouraging.  I loved that she was a powerhouse who was revered in Washington. As much as Papa Pope was annoying, he illustrated the plight that Black people (especially Black women) face to be valued and respected. Papa Pope has said many profound and crazy things. He was aware of who he was in America and who Olivia was in America, a BLACK PERSON. My favorite quote and I think one of the most relatable things he ever said was when he told Oliva that she has to be “Twice as good as them to get half of what they have.”

Scandal showcased the power of Black audiences and how much we needed characters that were not stereotypes, characters to aspire to. I respect Shonda Rhimes for allowing Olivia to be Black. Scandal’s success opened the doors for characters such as Cookie Lyon, Mary Jane Paul, Annalise Keating, Issa Dee and Rainbow Johnson. Olivia Pope and Scandal illustrated that there is more to Black Women than the stereotype or caricature. It is now great to see many female-led Black shows such as How to Get Away with Murder, Insecure, Greenleaf, Queen Sugar and Shots Fired that reject the stereotype. It is even better to see that this has spilled over into film with movies such as Hidden Figures which was led by a Black female cast.

Scandal also illustrated the power of choice with Olivia and the other female characters especially Mellie and Abby.  These characters at times chose work over family and motherhood, and seemed content with their decisions. This was illustrated with Olivia unapologetically having an abortion in season 5. Mellie illustrated this with her ambition and going after what she wanted and that was becoming the 1st female President. Even Susan was ambitious and likable, which I loved. The women were not afraid to get their hands dirty which was great. I know a lot of people liked how the show humanized Mellie with her father–in-law raping her but I actually liked her the way she was. Mellie was one of the few characters on the show who was unapologetic about her decisions, sacrifices, resentment and ambition. It was nice to see because women are made to apologize for going after what they want. I also loved how Mellie told her daughter that women are judged differently especially in the public and should be careful about their choices.

I loved the fact that the writers’ wrote Scandal in a way that women knew they living in a man’s world and had to adapt. Mellie used her position as First lady to her advantage, Olivia used her body and influence over Fitz and Jake to get her way, and Abby as Press Secretary understood that she can’t be involved in any scandals or drama because it would overshadow her position. I particularly liked Abby telling Leo that women are judged on so many things before we even open our mouths. Women are judged on their motherhood, appearance, and choices more than men. It is hard for women to be taken seriously in male-dominated fields.

I am overjoyed with the end of Scandal next year but cannot and will not discredit the doors it opened. It was to see stories of a Black woman that was more than the stereotype.  As ridiculous as Scandal became, it gave a fresh take on Black womanhood. Scandal also addressed the complexities of living in a man’s world and I loved it for that.