by Mia McKenzie
Last Thursday, I was having burgers with my homie who is also named Mia, who I secretly think of as the Asian version of myself (or I’m the Black version of her) because we are both QPOC writers who say things that a lot of people love and a lot of other people can’t handle. We’re semi-famous and people get mad at us a lot. And we don’t really give a fuck. This bonds us.
Anyhoo, we were eating burgers and Mia was all, “Do you watch Scandal?”
I was like, “Nope.”
Then Mia went on to tell me why I should. A show with a Black female lead, written and executive-produced by two Black women. Featuring other POC and some gays. Good writing, good acting. And, if what I see on Facebook is any indication, pretty darn addictive. How could I possibly resist?
Pretty much immediately after Mia left my apartment, I found Scandal online and started watching. The first scene kind of annoyed the shit out of me. It was that hyper-quick-talking-because-we-are-so-hip type scene and it made me wanna turn it off. But Mia is smart and I trust her judgement, so I kept going. And a few minutes later, when Olivia Pope waltzed in wearing white and looking FIERCE (in a total conformist kinda way, but still) I was hooked.
I watched every single episode between Thursday afternoon and Saturday night.
Along the way, I experienced a lot of mixed feelings. As a queer black femme nerd radical type, there are things about this show that bug the fuck out of me. There are other things that I quite enjoy. To sort some of it out, for myself and for you, I’ve compiled this list:
Why I Kinda Love It
1. The main character, Olivia Pope, is pretty
badass. And not in a one-dimensional boss bitch kind of way, but in a
real kinda way. She is not only Black, powerful, capable and brilliant, she is also deeply
flawed and does the wrong thing a lot. This is what makes a character, any character,
great. I don’t know if I can name another black woman on mainstream TV who is as three-dimensional as Olivia Pope, and I’m not sure I could name very many female characters altogether who are. And it’s fun to watch her rolling with the big dogs, à la Condi Rice but with waaaay better fashion, and just enough outside the actual government to not be as stained by its evils.
2. The writing is pretty darn good. And so is the acting.
Mellie Grant. Like Olivia pope, the First Lady in this show is also a three-dimensional character
with as much complexity as any male character on this or any other show. When Mellie enters the scene, I pay extra attention. Not only because I know she is about to throw some hilarious shade, but also because I know she’ll also be vulnerable and somewhat broken while doing it. I like that.
Watching them fix stuff. I often find the surprises to be unsurprising
and the plots to be predictable (in their defense, though, one of the
things I’m really good at is figuring out the twist in TV shows and
movies, I’m like a savant when it comes to this), but it’s still really
fun watching it all. The editing is great, the hustle and bustle, the music. It all plays out in really entertaining ways. And they do surprise me sometimes. When they do,
it’s even more awesome.
Why I Kinda Hate It
1. Olivia Pope’s hair. Ugh. I just want to shave her head so badly. Or yank out that weave. Or whatever. What I would not give for a Black woman in a lead role with her own damn hair, kinky and lovely as can be. I have a dream that one day Olivia Pope will show up with an afro, or some locs or something. If that ever happens, I will in that moment pledge my undying devotion to Scandal forever, no matter what, even after it jumps the shark and becomes the most annoying shit on TV like all the other Shonda Rhimes shows.
2. Those gays. Ugh. Why are all the gays on TV so…gay? Why are they all wealthy white men? Where are the queers? Where are the queers of color? Where are the trans* people of color? Why does TV gay look so much like a San Francisco bar? And why, oh why, must these rich white gays do shit like adopt black babies? Ugh. Stop it. That’s not a thing that should happen–in real life or on TV. Ugh.
3. Stephen. The most random unnecessary white man evah. But they got rid of his ass, so okay.
4. The whole Olivia/Fitz/Cyrus thing. I mean, it’s enough to ask of me to sit quietly while this smart, strong, amazing Black woman chooses a married white Republican man. That’s enough. Really, it is. But then, on top of that, I have to endure Fitz and Cyrus constantly arguing over whose “girl” she is? No. Stop it. For real. That’s not cute.
5. Abby. I just…I want to smack her. How does she work FOR Olivia? I mean, I appreciate that she adds drama to the show with her incessant disrespect, but…NO. Because here’s the thing: in real life, black women bosses do not get the kind of respect they deserve and they have to work a thousand times as hard as white dudes to be taken half as seriously. So, why are the writers perpetuating this nonsense? Olivia should have fired Abby in like the fourth episode. Don’t get me wrong: I’m okay with antagonism. It’s necessary for drama. But it shouldn’t come from her own employee!
6. David Rosen’s dead eyes.
7. The constant nonsense about how Fitz is so good and cares so much about the American people. Um. Maybe because I actually follow politics and understand that, in reality, Presidents are horrible men who care more about power than anything else, especially people, and that any display to the contrary is just a complete and total charade, this stuff is really hard for me to sit through without rolling my eyes damn near clear out of my head.
8. The preposterous absence of race. This is a show about a Black woman involved in an affair with the married white Republican President. And no one who finds out about the affair, even the First Lady, so much as blinks an eye about the so-incredibly-obvious racial…stuff! There is only one time in the entire show when race is mentioned, when Olivia suggests that their affair has a Sally Hemmings/Thomas Jefferson quality to it, and that is quickly dismissed when the President whines, “How could you play the race card on me????” The race card? Um…what?! You cannot have a Black woman in an affair with a white Republican President and pretend that race does not exist. First, because it’s just nonsense. Second, because it’s just bad for us. Americans don’t need another excuse to ignore race, especially when such a good (and incredibly dramatic and compelling) opportunity exists to pay attention to it. If this show actually went there, it might be fucking BRILLIANT.
9. It’s just all so…not radical. Everything about it that’s good is good in the most conformist possible ways. It amazes me how much mainstream television–even the good stuff–is still so incredibly conservative, at least to my radical imagination. In some ways, this show represents everything I think is wrong with the American liberal sensibility (I know I said conservative before, but really there’s not a lot of difference and this show proves that). I think a lot of people like this show because it has Black folks and gay folks fitting right in with white male privilege and power and nobody blinking an eye. And I guess that’s fine if that kind of privilege and power is what you’re into. But for me, for someone who believes that kind of power and privilege is actually bad and actually represents everything that’s terrible about the entire world…well, let’s say I’m not so impressed by it.
To sum it up, this is a damn entertaining TV show. That is, unfortunately, contributing to the downfall of humanity.
Can’t wait to see the next episode and kinda hate myself!
Get Mia’s new book here!
UPDATE: I no longer like Scandal at all. They pushed me too far and I’m out.
Mia McKenzie is a writer and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous.