I have watched films and series since my childhood and I love it. I am never tired of discovering new productions. I appreciate them for their scenario, their ambiance, their characters, their aesthetic…Recently, I became aware that fictions, regardless of their genre, cannot solely be reduced to their entertaining function. Indeed, like other art-forms, there are interesting cultural objects, to observe phenomena that occur in our world. What do the writer’s pen and the filmmaker’s directing tell us about their vision of the society? As spectators, what do we perceive and understand?
Well, today I share with you my thoughts about an episode of Scandal, which features various issues linked to race, privilege and police violence. Olivia was hired by the police department of D.C, to deal with a tricky situation. The body of a young black teenager, Brandon Parker, is lying on the floor. His dad, Clarence Parker, refuses to leave his son. He claims that a police officer has killed him and he thinks that the truth about it is going to be stifled and hidden. At the beginning of the investigation, she tries to treat the case without pointing out what the father said. The episode depicts how an event, certainly unfortunate but sadly ordinary, is apprehended and treated when the police is involved. It also questioned the acknowledgment of a victim as one, specifically when this one is a person of color.
Tensions and propaganda
Police violence towards citizens may be unknown by some people who have not seen it, heard about it or experienced it. Yet, it exists… Comprehensible naivety: after all, the police are supposed to protect all citizens, isn’t it? It may also be minimized and denied when the victim is an inhabitant of a pauperized neighborhood. Social class is not the only criteria; race is significant, and both are complementary. Moreover, medias and politics play a huge role in the systematic criminalization of people of color. Those who vilify victims, do not allude to the relationship between poverty and violence. But, they only strive to highlight the obvious violent behavior of people of color. You know, as if brutality was inherent to them. Consequently, they will impudently lie and invoke the supposed self-defense of the actual criminal. But, the episode does not focus on these propagandists. Indeed, the manipulation of the event is brought up by the police, a process that I will explain further in the article.
Which side do you have to pick: how to navigate between worlds?
Olivia obviously notices that the victim is a black boy, but initially she chooses not to take this detail into consideration. It may be possible that the teenager’s murderer is not a member of the police. Nevertheless, it does not mean that she refutes this possibility. She understands the seriousness of the situation and takes advantage of her close connections with the power. Consequently, she offers the father to contact personally David Rosen, the Attorney General of the USA.
While she is working on the situation, she is harshly challenged by Marcus Walker, a black activist. He seems to wonder who hired her although he clearly knows the answer. He also insinuates that she plays both sides and that she shamelessly compromises herself for money. So essentially, he accuses her of betraying the black community by teaming up with the D.C police. Per him, Olivia is not helpful for the father:
Marcus Walker: – “She would not be here unless you have the power.”
Olivia Pope: – “I am not the enemy.”
She was not chosen as a mediator, but rather as tool to legitimate and excuse the situation. But Olivia does not perceive the situation this way. She just wants to help the father and avoid another drama. Here, we observe the difficulties of being a minority (a black woman) and evolving in places where the system, is made by and for the dominants ones (predominantly white people). She works for the police, but also sometimes with the White House. Well, you have understood, she evolves among those who have the power. So, does she has to pick a side? If she does not opt for the black one, what could be the repercussions?
Is she black enough?
Marcus also blames Olivia because she is richer than him. She did not grow up in the same social environment, she lives in a wealthy place, she has her own consultancy agency and is her own boss. Explicitly, according to him, she does not belong to the black community, she is not a true black person, she does not have the card. I do agree that she was used by the police department as a pawn. Eventually, she become aware of this. But, I totally disagree with the way of Marcus questions her blackness. Just because they come from different social backgrounds, does not mean she is not a true Black. There should not be one archetype of black people. Just because she did not grow up in an African American pauperized neighborhood, does not mean that she ignores problems that occur there. Living in a privileged bubble (financial, social, professional and more) does not prevent her from being woke.
In certain situations, having a good social position won’t protect you from being discriminated, because race supplants everything and Olivia knows it. And if fortunately, she may escape from police violence, she is likely to experience other types of oppression. If Olivia did not care of this case, she would not have even called David and look deeper into the investigation with her team. She would have surely stacy-dashed the situation, by automatically criminalizing Brandon and justify the unjustifiable.
The writers; Shonda Rhimes and Zahir McGhee, cleverly manage in few minutes, to talk about white privilege, throughout a dialogue between Olivia and David:
“- David: There are laws!
– Olivia: To protect people who look like you!
– David: Oh, come on Liv!
– Olivia: You talk about fairness and justice like
it’s available to everybody. It’s not!”
In the context of this episode, I mention that the storyline happens during the fourth season. David knows a thing of two about the volatility of justice… However, he appears here like a Candid law student, or ingenuous graduated who strongly believe in justice. His reaction is quite troubling. He does not realize his privilege to be a white man, and he naively thinks laws are universal for everyone. In an idealistic world, it would be, but reality is sadly different. Olivia also evokes that unfairness and fear make part of the African-American’s daily routine. They live under pressure, scared to be arbitrarily hurt or killed by policemen. Eventually, this pattern leads to a deep distrust, even hatred towards them. So, we unfortunately note that David is not woke yet, but Susan Ross, the Vice President, is:
(Following the awful event, she comments the news, in the Oval Office)
Susan Ross: “- If anything like that ever happened to her (her daughter) … but of course, she is White and daughter of senator,
so the police are actually gonna think twice before shooting her.”
Thank you, Lady Ross!
Well, Mr. Rosen, let that be an example to you.
I told you, Olivia is woke
When she finally decides to support the father, the police realize that there have lose their asset:
Chief of the police: – “Whose side are you in ?
Olivia Pope: – NOT YOURS !
(Joining the crowd)
– Stand up, fight back, no more black men under attack!”
The situation is perverse because she was chosen not only because she is an expert in crisis management, but also because she is Black. By using her expertise, they wanted to legitimate their bad behavior. They know that there is a race issue: it might be possible that one of their colleague has killed the boy, for baseless reasons.
It seems necessary to me, highlighting that Scandal’s creator is a black woman. When you are a woman, it is difficult for you to gain acknowledgement. When you are part of minorities, it is another challenge. Now we can say that Queen Shonda Rhimes, as a black woman has practically overtake the glass ceiling. Since 2005, she has successfully developed brilliant and progressive TV series, like Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder. She holds various positions, such as producer, screenwriter, head writer, showrunner, etc. She is dominating the TV landscape for more than ten years. It is not insignificant that both main characters in her last TV productions, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder are black women. Unless I am mistaken, in Scandal, Olivia’s ethnicity is rarely underlined. We see us in her every-day-life. This is a not a show specifically about a black woman: her race is secondary. When Shonda Rhimes deals with black issues on screen, sometimes it is subtle and implicit. Other times, it can be concrete, like in this episode by opening a conversation about police violence, privileges and race.
Sources: season 4; episode 14, ”The Lawn Chair”, directed by Tom Verica and written by Shonda Rhimes and Zahir McGhee.