Can You Imagine Jill Scott as Olivia Pope?
With the 100th episode of Scandal set to air this Thursday, cast and crew were recently brought together by the Hollywood Reporter to discuss what it took to bring the controversial political drama to network television. It was of course no shock to hear ABC wanted the part of Olivia Pope to be played by a white woman, despite the character being inspired by real-life African American political fixer Judy Smith. What was a bit shocking, however, were some of the names being thrown about to play Olivia once the network agreed to the casting of a black woman.
According to executive producer Betsy Beers, in addition to Kerry Washington, singer Jill Scott and actress Anika Noni Rose, both alumni of HBO’s now-defunct series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, were tested for the role. Beers and ABC casting director Linda Lowy didn’t disclose what eventually gave Washington the leg up, only that “it was Kerry from the moment we took her to meet Shonda Rhimes.”
Anika Noni Rose being tested for the role of Olivia Pope isn’t so shocking. She’s an amazing actress who I have no doubt would have wowed us in this role. Singer Jill Scott on the other hand- big shocker. The shock, however, is good. Jill doesn’t fall into the same category as Kerry and Anika. Like How to Get Away with Murder’s Viola Davis, she doesn’t fit television’s ideal of what a desirable lead female should look like. Still, the fact that she was chosen to test for the part is something I applaud.
Though a stone-cold fox, Jill is a full figured black woman and television generally uses these women as either the butt of jokes or to keep the mammy stereotype alive. Jill as Olivia Pope would have turned that dynamic on its ear. Here’s hoping the singer one day gets the opportunity to topline another show.