Published on November 26th, 2013 | by jonathanmbutler40
Black Men are Not Created Equally on ‘Scandal’
By Jonathan M. Butler, Vyne Contributor
I have been fascinated with the TV Series “Scandal,” starring Kerry Washington, since the first episode, however I am beginning to ask myself whether the entertainment value alone is enough to continue tuning in. As a black man, I wanted to support a black heroine starring as the lead actress in a major network television drama series. I also wanted to support the programming of Shonda Rhimes, the black TV show creator, and I love the real life story of Judy Smith, the talented attorney and professional crisis manager who serves as the inspiration for Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington’s character. To watch the show in the beginning, was to be drawn in by the fast-paced dialogue and the intensity of the characters as they addressed issues that used to toe the line between morality, reasonableness, and sensibility in the first episodes. Tip toeing these lines was once compelling, but now, there are no lines. Now, the show is filled with crime and gratuitous sex, and as the plots have changed from their emphasis on solving the problems of CEO’s and prominent public figures to glamorizing the personal lives and flaws of the main characters, black men are not at all created equally when it comes to sex and crime on Scandal.
We have been introduced to three black men on the show: “Harrison,” played by Columbus Short is Olivia’s second-in-command, “Edison” the Senator who dated Olivia Pope briefly, and “Eli,” Olivia’s father. None of these black men have graced the screen in any elicit sexual interactions. We have only seen Harrison awake in his underwear after a night with a minor character in the most recent episode, and a few unnatural moments of lukewarm kisses between Olivia and Edison. With all of the hyper-sexualizing of the black heroine and the large volume of gratuitous sex scenes featuring many of the characters both gay and straight, are we unwilling to accept that black men can also be seen on network television in extended sexual encounters in the same way as the other characters are? Because of the historical hyper-sexual stereotyping of black men, the lack of black male sexuality on the show could be intentional. I don’t know if the writers of the show have even considered that there is a lack of sexual equity for black men on the show. I don’t know if it is fair for me to expect balance in the depictions of black male characters on a TV show. And although I am uneasy about the choice to make Olivia Pope so highly sexually objectified as a black woman, particularly when I think of the historic challenges of race and sex stereotyping in our culture, I am equally as troubled by the choice to make her so sexual in sex scenes with her white male partners and leave her one black romantic love interest with so limited physical and emotional intimacy. It is also worth noting that Edison was the only one of Olivia Pope’s love interests to propose marriage to her and yet we still did not witness the two of them in any extended sexual onscreen encounter. Even Huck, the sociopathic computer guru and trained killer, has appeared in more sexually charged and intimate scenes than any of the black men.
It is also disturbing that with all of the criminal activity of the main characters, from murder, election fraud, obstruction of justice, and tampering with witnesses and evidence just to name a few examples, arguably the most notorious indiscriminant murderer of them all is Olivia’s father Eli, who just so happens to be a black man; and the only character on the show who has served time in prison for an actual crime is Harrison, who also just so happens to be a black man. I know that I am not the only person, of any race, troubled by these facts.
The violence perpetrated by the characters that we were supposed to be rooting for is bad enough. The hyper-sexualizing, gratuitous sex scenes and the glorification of status as a means to force us to accept the relationship between power and sex is exaggerated enough. But as a black man watching this show, the most disturbing part is that amidst all this sex and violence, black men are still the only convicted criminals and are not afforded the courtesy of being shown as full people, which includes showing their sexual relationships.
Despite my objections, I do still support the show. I appreciate the diversity of the cast, the complexity of the characters, and the willingness to put black actors and actresses in leading roles and in positions of power on a hit TV drama series. I do think the show is courageous in some ways. I think the show challenges traditional roles and characterizations of gender, power, sex, and race, but as a black man I am troubled by the lack of courage afforded to the depictions of black men on the show and the degree to which black men are still marred by conventional stereotypes.