I’ve been hooked on the television show Scandal for a bit. It has become so captivating to me that I can’t watch it on Thursdays when it comes on or I’ll be up to late replaying and thinking about the episode. Instead I wait until the weekend when I can really immerse myself in it without fear of staying up all night thinking about it!
I started watching the show because Shonda Rhimes produced it and I’m thrilled that a Black woman is having great success in a medium that consistently under- and misrepresents us. I never got into Grey’s Anatomy but I wanted to give Scandal a try. I was hooked after the first episode. But I was also puzzled about why I was so engrossed in this program about a woman who “fixes” complicated, and sometimes unscrupulous situations, while having an affair with a married man.
Olivia Pope, the protagonist played by Kerry Washington, is strong, smart, an ultimate multitasker, and beautiful. Her clothes and make-up are flawless, she has an answer for every question, and she manages the lives of many others. Olivia Pope is Superwoman.
Publicly Olivia Pope never cracks. She is highly effective and always does what needs to be done. But when she is alone, in her apartment, in the hallway, or in the bathroom, she falls apart. Her pain, agony, loneliness, and heartache are overwhelming. Privately we witness her brokenness, her humanness. Olivia Pope is the archetype of Strong Black Women, or Superwomen. She is what many of us saw in our mothers, aunties, and grandmothers. She takes care of business, and everyone else, seemingly with grace and ease and certainly with strength. But Olivia Pope, just like our grandmothers, mothers, and aunties is human. And she has emotions and flaws and vulnerabilities. It is the privacy and even secrecy of these emotions that creates and replicates her loneliness and isolation. No one can get close to her because she maintains the wall and facade that she is “okay” and can always take care of everyone and everything, without cost or sacrifice to herself.
When she is alone, the damage and pain that she experiences is clear to herself and to the audience. Being a Superwoman has a significant cost. And no one shows us the costs in today’s society better than Olivia Pope.