More than just a “reality chick”: How Mo Ivory got “Scandal” and Olivia Pope wrong.

ImageConfession: I love Scandal; I go through withdrawal the moment my Thursday clock hits 10:01PM. I love Scandal and I love Olivia Pope. Reality Check: Not everyone agrees with me.Second Reality Check: As with most things, life would be better (for them and me) if they just did. Final Reality Check: I have slight issues but that is another post. Mo Ivory over at CBS Atlanta published “Olivia Pope is No Different Than Any Other Reality Chick (She Just Costs More),” and in it she proceeds to analyze Oliva Pope and Scandal  and comes to the conclusion that Miss Pope is a lot more of the same, and that she, and those of us who also complain about reality shows and their depictions of women of color, is a hypocrite because she likes Scandal. Ivory makes a considerable effort to break down the show and expose its flaws, and in a committed determined effort show us that:

Olivia Pope is no different than Joseline from “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta” or Kim from “Real Housewives of Atlanta” – she just has more expensive clothes, a higher paying job and tighter security. She is no breath of fresh air, nuanced or complicated, and definitely not a rarity in black female representation. She is merely presented on a shiny platter in a sparkly house instead of at the bar in a strip club.

Excuse me, just a queer black boi here, but um, yeah, no. Olivia Pope is not at all like the women Ivory listed, and moreover Ivory’s entire piece is just problematic. Her argument pretty much hinges on the embracement of a politics of respectability. Can we just agree that while the status quo is not desirable, the politics of respectability is not much better either? 

Much of Ivory’s gripe seems to circle around Miss Pope’s sexual life. Sigh. This to me is the only thing about this whole argument that is familiar  Black Women are often damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Let’s put this in context: Scandal is a Shonda Rhimes show; I don’t even currently watch other Shonda Rhimes shows but I used to watch Grey’s Anatomy so I know that on each of her shows, her main female characters (who have all been characterized as strong but flawed) have engaged in extramarital affairs. So in that sense, Scandal is following a Rhimes formula. In another context, Olivia Pope is the latest in a long line of women post Ally McBeal who have their professional lives tight (at least at the beginning of the series) and their personal lives are a mess. Think of this as the female equivalent of the very male antihero ( Olivia Pope: Don Draper).  What is refreshing about Scandal is that it refuses to victimize Olivia Pope, and much like the (problematic) character Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & the City dares and demands that you love her and root for her despite her being a mistress and doing things you don’t agree with. There is not much room in pop culture for Black and Latina women to be flawed in any way (and if you disagree just wait for the respectability police to speak) and still respected, admired, and strong. Scandal demands this from its audience.

Now let’s talk about the rest of the article. Ivory just gets facts wrong.
1) “She’s having an affair with a married man who made sure he secured a really good job for her that she has been able to turn into a profitable business.” ~ Ivory. Ummmm No. Cyrus brought Olivia Pope in to help Fitz. You can bet Cyrus was not wanting an affair as that would just be a problem for him to clean up. Fitz was attracted to Olivia because she was beautiful and smart, and the show has implied she is opposite from his wife. Indeed, while we can see what draws him to Olivia and Olivia to him, what we have not seen is what drew him to Millie in the first place. Olivia left the White House because she did not want to just continue the affair. She started her own business  So at no point during any of this did Fitz help her. She helped him. 

2) “She sneaks over in the middle of the night for booty calls and has her “yes” men and women to cover her tracks.” Ummmmm yes and no; middle of the night illicit sexual sessions are somewhat par for the course in affairs, but this has also happened, more often, during the day and in the daylight. Her ” ‘yes’ men and women” do not really know about her personal life; the only exception is Huck. 

3) “She keeps a thug around (Huck) for protection and to do her dirty work.” Huck is not just a “thug.” He is a smart, internet savvy, Latino with a certain set of skills; he used to work for the government and he is damaged. It is no wonder they have such a bond because after Olivia, Huck is arguably the most interesting character on the show. 

4) “She keeps a good guy on the side who she should “really be with” in order for her to claim to herself and others that she is finished being a whore.” She doesn’t keep Edison on the side (she finally broke up with him); he popped BACK into her life and she decided to end things with Fitz and date Edison. What is important here, at least what I find interesting, is that Edison shows that Olivia doesn’t date weak or unambitious men. She is a woman who demands an equal (black or white); this is different from the script Black women are often fed. A white woman may have sung it, but Black (and Latina) women have been living the damn “Stand by Your Man” life way too long.
And can we please address the language Ivory uses: “whore,” “stripper,” “escort,” “hooker.” I am skeptical about a piece that seems to judge a person (but especially women and queer people) based upon their sexuality and its expression. At no point is Olivia Pope paid for her sexual services, and at no point can she be boiled down to just what is between her legs.

My biggest gripe with Ivory is that there are things to criticize about Scandal but this whole respectability angle really isn’t one of them, or at the very least it is the weakest aspect. We could talk about the Olivia’s obsession with the color white; the seemingly asexual nature of the very attractive Harrison (I am holding out hope that he is gay); the way Olivia had Harrison use Abby’s history with domestic violence against her; Quinn’s presence on the show; the way Shonda Rhimes is address same-sex adoption with Cyrus always manipulating James, and James always ready to drop anything and everything when he hears the word baby (an odd subversion of the typical man-woman paring, and a possible commentary on homonormative Americans [granted I doubt it]); the characterization of Millie; a SCOTUS justice not being aware that Huck would be tortured; Olivia Pope continuing a looooooong tired tradition of Black women taking care of everything and everyone around them and leaving little to nothing for themselves. You see, tons of stuff. And yet, Ivory chose to write what? Incorrect, weak stuff.

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6 thoughts on “More than just a “reality chick”: How Mo Ivory got “Scandal” and Olivia Pope wrong.

  1. apothecary21c says:

    I do not believe that Mo Ivory watches Scandal. I think she’s a liar. No one could get that much wrong and have watched the show. Olivia ended things with Fitz two years before the show even began, they haven’t slept together since, but she’s a whore because she still loves him? Yeah, cause whores love their clients. LOL.

    Does CBS even have a show, other than Person of Interest, with a Black woman on it? That article was nothing more than a hatchet job. They probably asked her to write it because she’s Black and a woman and thought that it would be more acceptable (politically correct) for her to attack the show. I guess Elementary isn’t doing as well as CBS claims.

  2. LaLa says:

    Did she or did she not have an affair with a marrried man? Everyone can take her article apart piece by piece if we want, but we will be missing the main point. Which is, with the reality shows showing black women as angry, hypersexual, goldigging tramps, we do not need anymore of these images.(hip hop anyone?). Our image is so damaged as it is, so when we finally get a smart, strong, successful black woman they make her morally loose. I feel they could have made her show human frailities another way. One final note, let’s not fool ourselves. When anyone and I mean anyone, talks about olivia pope, the first and final thought and comment is about her AFFAIR WITH THE MARRIED WHITE MAN. And this is the image that the world takes away about the black woman. (Tears)

    • mauricelukas says:

      My response would be that Mo Ivory is a professional and should be, because she can be, correct in her analysis. I would also say that the depiction of Black women in the media is often horrid, but that also means when we discuss Black women in the media we need to be clear about how complicated the issue is. And, we need to move beyond politics of respectability.

    • apothecary21c says:

      “When anyone and I mean anyone, talks about olivia pope, the first and final thought and comment is about her AFFAIR WITH THE MARRIED WHITE MAN. And this is the image that the world takes away about the black woman. (Tears)”

      Umm. No. The only people negatively obsessed with Olivia Pope’s soul mate and former sex partner are BM who hate seeing BW in IRR, male-identified BW who feel the same way, and racists — and none of these people watch the show. No one else on the planet cares. At least not negatively.

      No one thinks getting involved with a married man is a good idea, least of all me. I am married. AND, btw, my husband is White. We were not having an elicit affair, but there were / are still people who are irate about our relationship and marriage. So, why am I not upset about the OLITZ affair? Because aside from the show being a work of fiction, the storyline created reflects a marriage that was entered into for political expediency and NOT LOVE. Also, if I were going to get upset every time a fictional character had an affair I would have to stop DVRing Days of Our Lives too.

      Affairs are the cornerstone of soaps. Name one soap opera where there are no extra-marital affairs? Can’t think of one? That’s because there isn’t one. So why make a big deal out of this one?!

      Ironically, the love story between Olivia and Fitz is why the show became such a huge success. Fitz wasn’t even suppose to be in more than a few episodes here and there, but they changed gears because the viewers loved the chemistry between the actors and wanted more of that love story. And MOST of the viewers are non-Black. This is because (despite what BW are raised to believe) people respond to Human, multidimensional characters. NO ONE loves perfect people. No one loves the “strong Black woman”. Who can relate to that? I know I can’t.

      I think the problem with too many American BW is that they try to get their sense of self from the media. I understand the reasons behind it, but it’s still dumb. And frankly, only someone extremely insecure would be upset that a non-stereotypical BW on a night-time soap is not some perfect, asexual mammy, for fear that the whole world will think less of them. You are not Olivia Pope or Kerry Washington, and neither am I. No one is going to be confused about that. And the people who hate Black women, have always hated Black women and aren’t going to change their mind because a TV show has a perfect one, who does and says all the perfect things that a BW is supposed to do and say. Whatever the hell that may be. I’m not perfect, so I have no idea what that script would even look like.

      If you want something legitimate to worry and cry about, try Rap and hip hop lyrics that demean and marginalize BW and girls; try Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. Believe it or not, I have met non-Black people dumb enough to actually believe that those shows are featuring real Black Americans, when in fact ALL of their guests are nothing more than paid actors. But even those people recognize that Scandal is just a scripted television series…. Just saying.

  3. gg says:

    apothecary21c BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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