Should We be Proud of Olivia Pope?

KERRY WASHINGTON AS OLIVIA POPE

If, like me, you are one of the millions of fans of ABC’s intense drama Scandal, you watched last week’s season finale. While I don’t consider myself a “gladiator” (I think that’s what the die-hards call themselves), I do actively watch and enjoy the show, but it was something during last Thursday’s episode that disturbed me.

We all know, besides the many other plots and twists, the main storyline centers around this “forbidden love” of Olivia Pope (played by actress Kerry Washington) and Fitzgerald “Fitz” Grant (played by Tony Goldwyn).

Not disregarding the fact that Fitz is the president of the United States (as if being in a relationship with someone in this position of power wouldn’t be difficult enough) Fitz is married. *Translation* the main storyline of Scandal, the juicy part, the sexy, hot, sensual “forbidden love” is what you and I would call a good old-fashioned affair.

It’s downright adultery. Everyone who watches can clearly see that… fair enough. But, what pinched a nerve during last week’s episode was, after meeting to discuss Defiance and the new issue of this Citron card, with Mellie (his wife) not too far away in the hall confiding in Cyrus, the President proceeds to give Olivia—what every logical person can conclude—oral sex. This threw me off because as I sat there watching, all I could think was “Dude, your wife was just in here two seconds ago and she’s currently walking down the hallway outside of that room.”

The scene just made me think how blatant this adultery has become—even to the point of displaying it darn near Mellie’s very own eyes. It reminded me of the scene two episodes ago when Fitz “picked” Olivia, and the scene showed him and Olivia happily sleeping together while Mellie sat looking at the clock as the time ticked away on her marriage.

Now, I understand Shonda Rhimes is probably making their affair so prevalent now to demonstrate just how much Fitz doesn’t care and desires to be with Olivia; I get it. But as I keep watching, I’m starting to wonder does this imagery have a much bigger role than the “oh it’s just TV” position we’ve given it?

The questions we need to examine are:
1. Is Olivia Pope an image black women can be proud of?
OR
2. Should she have to be? Is Olivia Pope just a character on screen, nothing more, nothing less?

I’ve read blogs and viewers’ comments showing differing opinions:

Is Olivia Pope an image black women can be proud of?
Some people say yes: For the first time in almost 40 years a black woman is in the lead role of not only a network drama, but a highly successful one at that.

Pope isn’t the “average” or “typical” character most often associated with black women in the media: mammmie/mule/sister soldier. Nor is she a gold-digging, neck rolling, cat-fighting reality TV persona or a Tyler Perry character. Instead of being stereotypical, Pope provides an image of a normal black woman, which is rarely seen in the media. Not to mention, she is beautiful and the object of affection of the most powerful man in the nation; again, something rarely seen in the media.

Other people answer no to this question: Even though Olivia Pope is successful, beautiful and intelligent, a very big part of her image on the show is playing whore to the president. Even though she’s his “true love,” she’s still playing the role of a black side chick, home wrecker and mistress.

Is Olivia Pope just a character on screen, nothing more, nothing less?
Is Shonda Rhimes and the other Scandal writers responsible for portraying black women in a certain light (especially with Shonda being a black woman), or do some of us look too deeply into it? It’s just TV, a soap opera at that; so, there will be infidelity, sex scenes and the characters will be tragically flawed.

Gina McCauley of What About Our Daughters blog wrote:

Scandal lovers don’t want to come out and admit that broadcast television is a powerful driver of culture – good and bad. An entire generation of Black girls is going to see their place in the world differently because of this character – in ways microscopic and massive.

In a world where there are so few images of Black women on broadcast television that look, sound and act like Olivia Pope, it’s reasonable that people would want to psychoanalyze her role and discuss potential impacts.

I agree with McCauley, tv and other media forms are powerful drivers of our culture. The images portrayed in the media of black women do affect how not only black women view themselves (and sometimes their roles), but how others view us. This is why Kerry Washington’s lead role is so significant, yet is what also made me think a little deeper about the blatant adultery (and the actual praise of it in this case) in Scandal a little more. We’re already seeing how so many devalue marriage and make a mockery of it; do we need yet another example?

My sister, however, made an interesting counter argument to this claim. She said Mellie knew about Fitz’s and Olivia’s affair a long time ago and was even okay with it at one point, telling Olivia she forgot to do her part in one episode. Now that the affair isn’t benefiting Mellie and she suddenly wants her husband back doesn’t mean we should sympathize with her.

Again, this is another example of the Scandal debate: real-life affects or just a show?

What do you all think, Sistas? Scandal, Olivia Pope, black women, infidelity: Does the imagery truly affect us or should we not entertain what happens on screen past it’s 1-hour time slot?

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BIO

Service is her passion, writing is her platform, women and the Black Community are her avenues. Shala Marks is a writer, editor and soon-to-be author. Through her work, Marks aspires to demonstrate “The Craft of Writing, and the Art of Efficacy.” She has a B.A. in journalism from Arizona State University. Connect with her at:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shala.marks
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/shalamarks

34 Comments

  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post. I have a lot to say, so bear with me:

    Mellie. I know this post isn’t about her, but I’m just going to chime in her character. Bellamy Young, the actress, is terrific. Mellie’s character is one of the most complicated characters i’ve ever come across. One second I love her, and the next, I hate her. People say she knew about the affair. She knew Fitz was sleeping around on her. She was okay with that because at the end of the day to get, keeping Fitz happy was her job. What she did know was that he was madly in love with Liv. If you notice in season 2, she objected to their relationship because it was causing a ruckus in her marriage. Fitz wanted to leave her and be with Olivia. That wasn’t apart of the deal. I want to say she brought it on herself, but I just don’t know anymore. I kind of feel bad for her.

    Okay, back on topic. YES! Black woman should be proud of an intelligent woman who is highly regarded, loved and depended on. What I love about Olivia’s character is that she is flawed. She is not perfect, no one is. If Olivia was perfect, there wouldn’t be a show. I see a lot of negativity regarding the lead black actress being involved with caucasian men. See, that’s the Scandal. Even though we’re in 2013, interracial relationships are still frowned upon by some. If Fitz or Jake was Black, that wouldn’t be as shameful. The show is about scandalous acts. It wouldn’t survive without scandals, lol.

  2. Also, sorry about the first paragraph. I meant,”She was okay with that because at the end of the day keeping Fitz happy was her job.

    Plus, I love the show. I rush home to watch it. I liked Deception as well. Too bad it was cancelled.

  3. This is all desensitizing us to Affairs, Adultery & Cheating in general! We don’t need this, have Marriages breaking up left right and centre without people even trying to make their marriage work!

  4. I am glad a black sista got a job in this racist industry were you have to be white or damned near white…why do you think rhianna and beyonce keep that hair blonde? God forgive me!

  5. the last couple of episodes, Liv kept coming off as very cheap and easy to me.

    she says you have to earn me, then later on that night she is bent over in the shower.

    so yea great show but, glorified jump off at the end of the day. I have yet to meet a woman who syays they did it for love, wait for the actual marriage (no matter how damaged) to be over.

  6. Scandal is not the first show to feature a black woman having an affair. Yes, it’s on a big network, and yes she’s the star but still … Prime time drama is built around affairs! This is silly now. As we Speak, the Tasha character on The Game is screwing her ex con boyfriend and Rick Fox. I am amazed at all the blog posts and dissertation length essays this show has produced. It’s just a TV show. If Olivia was screwing a black man nobody would be saying all this.

  7. I respect the comments made in this article because it is a subject that is being talked about in various media outlets. My question is would we even be having this conversation if it were Sarah Michelle Gellar or Jennifer Love Hewitt ? Let’s be real, this is just a TV show and a character people, period. As the great Wanda Sykes mentioned in her stand-up a lot of “dignified” Black folks have the stigma about “white people is looking at you” and we are so concerned about what they think and feel about us. Why are we putting our energy into what they think when it comes to a TV character when we have real life Sistas such as Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice (like her or not), the Gorgeous 1st Lady Michelle Obama and others who set the real precedence as to what Black women are and can achieve? If you are going to talk about the impact of TV shows and the negative images of women of color and our culture we need to be talking about these “reality” shows. These programs showcase our women in such a negative, nonproductive fashion; but no one says anything because the ratings are through the roof and networks are making tons of money. So, let’s congratulate Ms. Kerry for staring in a successful show, the first dominating role for a Black woman since the great Diahann Carroll; and don’t scrutinize whether it makes us look bad. In the end, it is just a character on a TV show.

  8. LMAO…I just wanted to tell you I feel the saw way about Mellie. Bellamy Young is bad! She is an excellent actress. Her and Cyrus are my favorites; they can ACT!

  9. It is entertainment. PPL need to learn that this is not and should not be reality. Scandal is entertainment if this show influences a person’s life decisions we have another topic at hand.

  10. I think a lot of women look up to the beauty, class, grace and confidence of Olivia Pope and will look to emulate that. None will look to become mistress to a white president or any white man. We know how to separate the good from the bad.

  11. So what, for years blacks have looked at white people play scandalous characters, what is the different.

  12. I love scandal! I love that the show is centered around a strong black woman. I love that Olivia is running sht and everyone knows it. She controls the president!!! I’m glad the show isn’t ghetto!

  13. Yeah I’m going to have to say yes, we can be proud of her. I remember seeing someone saying Olivia Pope is what post racialized tv should look like. She is a woman, a very powerful, intelligent woman who’s worth looking up to. That’s not to say that people are going to start to have affairs with men and devalue marriage because of her. I watch Hannibal and I’m not off to become a cannibalistic serial killer. This plays into the idiotic stereotype that the audience is stupid. We’re intelligent people who can separate the good from the bad. For instance I don’t plan on rigging a national election in my life, but I can still appreciate how amazing a character Olivia is. If this were a white character/white actress the fact is that this conversation would not be happening. I could give you an incredibly long list of white characters who’ve been in affairs on tv and no one said a peep about it. Why I mentioned the “post racialized” comment, was because while I am proud and honest to god, puffed up about the fact that a woman of colour has such an amazing role on tv, I want her to be judged on the standards that you would judge any other (and by other I mean white) character by. I hate this belief we have that one black woman speaks for our entire race. We spend too much time dissecting everything Olivia does so we can fit her into some ridiculous little trope, when she’s so much more than that. She’s a really well written character and I wish we just enjoy that. She’s not the first lady on a prime time television show to be involved in an extramarital affair. Not by a long shot.

  14. What is so wonderful about a woman who seems to sleep with the the president head security guy and next night slept with the president besides nasty and we want to call it scandal. The show turned me off imediately when I saw this episode and I refuse to watch again. While I am sure there are thousands of people who like this behavior. It seems as though we want to make excuses or compare it to some other race. Who cares which race you are with this type of behavior you are slut. That is what they use to call it and that is what it still is. Image is everything show are not.

  15. The character of Olivia Pope is powerful imagery! She’s the ultimate fixer and insider. Adultery happens in everyday marriages, married people love to cheat, it is a thrill for many! I love that Olivia Pope based on a real person (Judy Smith). Her role transcends race, she’s a power broker, make it happen kind of chick with human flaws, battles with keeping her moral compass, smart, yet irresponsible at times.
    1. Yes
    2. No

    I like Mellie and Cyress, their characters are outstanding! Art imitates life in this drama!

  16. This is the reason Hollywood didn’t give black women their own show for 40 years after Dianne Carroll and the other wonderful actress. Instead of looking at this as just a form of entertainment, there are some that analyzing the show, and picking apart every detail, like it’s social science and history 101. It’s not that deep. Fitz and Olivia relationship isn’t that deep to analzye the implications on this image and how it affects the black woman, or any woman. Fitz is in love/obsessed with Olivia, so he is reckless, and because Olivia is is the same with him, she’s reckless. This has nothing to do with power/ place in society, but old fashion, crazy in love. Our parents didn’t analzye the social ramifications of Dallas, Dynasty,etc, they just watched it, laughed, gawked at it, and moved on. Suddenly, a black woman is getting it in, and all the way, with a white President, suddenly, it’s let’s talk about Fitz going down south on Olivia while his wife is a few feet away. That’s the essence of their love story, that they don’t care. They don’t try to care. And Olivia didn’t sleep with one man behind the other, it was a month or so after the fact. And white shows do it all the time. Don’t take this the wrong way, but why can’t we just watch the show like other women, and not look at it, as Mammy vs. Sexualized Black woman. We want to be seen as equal, but we really don’t because we racialize everything in life. When I see Olivia and Fitz, I don’t see a black woman being a whore,etc, I see that she’s a woman, he’s a man, and their attraction for each other is lethal, dangerous, exciting. But, then I’m not a sista Souljah. Now, I can understand the blacklash Whitney and Kevin Costner must have felt over the Bodyguard.

  17. Black folks , i.e. black women make my head hurt sometimes. I can’t with , the whole Black Mammy , or Jezebel, oversexualized drama. I need to see entertainment. And this is coming from a person who can be militant.

  18. Bowhe!!!!! YES!!!!,u took the words right from under me! Why can’t this just be a good show? I can understand the “distaste” left after watching a reality show such as LHH-ATL but scandal is a great show. Don’t make it more than what it is ladies …

  19. Ask this after the show ‘Mistresses’ airs on ABC lol. I think Olivia will be seen differently then.

  20. Just shows smart women can be so dumb and delusional.

  21. I’m not proud of Olivia Pope’s character as an adulterer, but girlfriend is smart! I just wish she’d give up that pointless relationship with Fritz, the president, and just continue dealing with high-profile crisis cases. Heck, I would still be a fan!

  22. Scandal will be the one and only series for starring a black woman, or a black person in general. We can’t separate fiction from reality. Everything has to be moralistic. Where are the complaints about reality snows, and black men in drag on Bravo. Oh that’s right, they aren’t black women having an affair with a white man. So, all the mess that’s on t.v., blacks are offended by this? REally? I guess noone watch Games of Thrones, Spartacus,True Blood. And noone didn’t watch NYPD BLUE? I think I need a break from black blogs and sites for awhile.

  23. Art always imitate life and I think some people are reading too much into this. People have affairs all the time and Scandal did not invent anything that wasn’t already happening and happening for often than not. So to trivialize her character into whether we should idolize her or think she is a role model or image we want to see on tv. We like to see realness and not something glossed over to satisfy those who choose to live in a world where they think that fictional characters can mold our youth, no we mold our youth way more than any character on tv. We see our female family and friends growing up and that is how we set our levels of moral expectations. But the article is good and I am glad to see so many people respond in different way.

  24. I don’t have cable and rarely watch TV but I love Scandal.

    I love that Olivia Pope is a strong, intelligent yet feminine bad ass.

  25. I agree with the article, I don’t get why some get so offended at the truth, the fact that he claims to love her doesn’t make it any better. Plus if this were real life and Olivia were a friend or family member most people wouldn’t want her in that type of a relationship. I know it’s fiction but there is no issue with trying to be realistic. Plus she has to sneak around even hide it from the people close to her because she is ashamed of it. You don’t sneak around unless you KNOW you are doing something WRONG.

  26. Yes Olivia is someone black people can look up to but to answer the other question is complicated. Maybe the writer did this to show how much fitz really did love Olivia but at the same time the writer (in my opinion) is making it seem like both fitz and Olivia could care less about Mellie or how she feels in the whole situation. Olivia even though over and over again she would call herself a mistress I don’t think she ever put herself in the wife’s shoes. She knows what she is doing is wrong but still she is fixated on going through with this plan of her becoming First Lady. She blatantly disrespects the First Lady while she, Hollis, fitz, and Cyrus were discussing defiance. I have yet to see her show sympathy for Fitz’s wife– whether her name was Mellie or Sharon or Amanda, she has yet to show that she feels some guilt for breaking up a marriage. She may be fitz true love but coming to the end of the season all I saw her as was a disrespectful whore that was high off the fact that the President of the United States wanted to get in her pants.

  27. And what was that shit with fitz putting his head on Mellie’s lap after Olivia dumped him. That man is foul. I give props to whoever leaked Olivia’s name to the press because I was just DIEING to see Mellie do it. Fitz is a foul nasty man and even this is just a show I would be pissed if he was re-elected for a second term. I wanted defiance to become a public thing like why is it whenever someone does something wrong Olivia and her team must do whatever it takes to bring him/her down but when Olivia does something as horrible as rig a national election it must remain a secret. Total BS!!

  28. It’s a TV show. That said, I’m a black woman married to a white man and I find all the drama about these characters damn ridiculous. Be who you want and date who you want. Don’t let anybody’s opinion about what your life should look like get in your way. Most of the hate for this character derives from sheer inseurity and ignorance. Uh, ohh. Your fear is showing.

    It’s none of your business who I love, how I love him and how good it is. If a black woman and a white man gets under your skin that bad you need to see somebody about that. Pull up a couch and let your demons out. While you’re doing that, Black women are going to do life on their terms. We will not live our lives in your oxygen limited box.

  29. If we look at olivia pope as simply a fictional character merely created to entertain and therefore shouldnt be met with any scrutiny, why is it that people are so up in arms about the depiction of black women in rap videos and rap in general. Isnt this also entertainment, arent these dancers a kind of fictional character

  30. There’s nothing “excellent” about allowing ANY man to jerk you around and screw you while still married to his wife. The way he spoke to her father in the most recent episode was disgusting and I’m glad he told Fitz he was a disappointment ESPECIALLY concerning Olivia because he is. However, Olivia should also want better for herself.

    You would think Shonda Rimes would take this opportunity to show that a black woman can and should be in a leadership position instead of trivializing her by making her into a helpless sex puppet. It is an unhealthy relationship and that is that. Take away the “glamour” of the DC lifestyle and the appeal of being the President’s mistress and you’re left with nothing but a man cheating on his wife with another woman.

    I watch the show because I like Olivia Pope. I love her elegance, her intelligence, her tenacity, and her creativity. However, I cringe when the “love” scenes with she and Fitz air. I wish she was with someone else like Edison or Jake – if she HAS to be with anyone at all, it should be with someone who respects her. Fitz does not respect her, nor does he respect Mellie (who is also pretty badass).

    I am reminded of the line from the “Vermont is for Lovers” episode, when Fitz tells Olivia the house he had built for them had lots of rooms for plenty of children. I immediately snarked, “Oh, does that include the three kids you already have?” Because let’s be real, we all know it doesn’t. Fitz is a d-bag.

    Olivia is a great character in great danger of becoming another caricature. Stop writing prime-time soap operas Ms. Rimes!

  31. Can we be proud that Olivia Pope is an ambitious, well educated, and well spoken black woman with the moxie and know-how to be a “gladiator in a suit”? Absolutely. However, the fact remains that Olivia is a glorified whore to the P.O.T.U.S. I don’t care how we try to justify it or fancy it up; the fact remains that Olivia Pope spreads her legs for someone else’s husband. A man with not one kid, not two kids, but THREE children with his wife. No matter what Mellie and Fitz’s problems are,no matter how broken and ugly, the fact remains that their relationship never had a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being repaired because Olivia was always there with a open legs…er…arms to console him when “mean old Mellie” was a “bad wife/first lady”. Even if his marriage was irreparable, the fact remains that he was still MARRIED. Every time I see Olivia cry and pout about the fact that they can’t be together because he is the MARRIED leader of the free world, I feel like whipping out the world’s tiniest violin and playing the world’s tinest, saddest song for her. Why? Because she is woefully deficient in making good decisions when it comes to her love life. Both Jake and Senator Davis were appropriately available and great guys, but that didn’t appeal to Olivia. Why would she want a man that she could actually call hers and one that she wouldn’t have to hide and creep around with like some backdoor Jezebel when she could continue screwing someone else’s husband? That would be just insane to fathom! Oh the horrors of being in a relationship that isn’t cheap and tacky! I understand that the allure of the show is that Olivia is flawed. What human isn’t? But that has never stopped anyone in the history of real and/or imagined scandals worldwide from being called what they truly are. Olivia, Sweety. You may be a “gladiator in a suit” but you can also go by another well known title: Whore. With all that being said, I think there are things that black women can be proud of when it comes to Olivia Pope, but I also think there are a few things that not just black women, but all women should see as cautionary tales rather than something to be admired when it comes to our favorite pro/antagonist. Admire her drive. Admire her intelligence. DO NOT idolize or admire her lose moral compass when it comes to being the side azz for a married man. So to answer the question, yes. Olivia has admirable qualities that I think black women should strive towards, but in others, absolutely not. Black women PLEASE strive to be more than a sleazy booty call for a married man.

  32. From reading all of these comments I have come to a conclusion that the media has done it’s job. This is what our black teens look up to! Oh and yes the watch media all the time. This is sad and ridiculous. Like I always say…Olivia Pope is the Sidechicks hero! Giving them hope one episode at a time!

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