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THE REEL AINT REAL: Scandal and black female equality

Fri, Sep 25, 7:00 to 9:00pm, Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, Conference Room 123


The question “Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?” has been a debatable conundrum in many academic circles. This perplexing question vividly illuminates the disturbingly blinding and gleefully basking glow of Hollywood’s bright lights for African American Actresses. Hollywood is a historically racist ostracizing institution that was often merely a reflection of the contemporary racial disposition of American society. The exclusion of black people, particularly black women was often indicative of the racial tensions that were permeating U.S. society. However on April 25, 2012, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), launched a new television show with a African American female lead that has complicated the historical racially marginalizing primetime television lineup. Based on the life of an actual Washington political fixer, American viewing audiences were introduced to Scandal. Oprah Winfrey proclaimed in a Time 100 article that “I grew up at a time when it was an anomaly to see people who looked like me on TV. When you don’t feel seen or heard, you don’t feel validated or valued. That was the ultimate lesson and prevailing thread of truth from 25 years of Oprah shows. Shonda Rhimes, creator of the must-see TV thriller Scandal, validates our story…” Many black women, like Oprah, agree that this show’s powerful, sophisticated, wealthy, educated, and impeccably fashioned lead actress is if not who black women are, definitely who we should aspire to be. However, does this over romanticized portrayal of black female exceptionalism help or hinder the need for national attention to be more inclusive of other narratives of the black female experience that fall short of this show’s portrayed exceptional pedestal? In this paper I seek to problematize the image of the show’s heroine, Olivia Pope, and how this cultural cinematic imagining is not a reflection of the socio-material conditions of black women collectively. I also seek to theorize how praising and oversaturating American viewers with these images obscures the structural challenges black women face when aiming for socio-economic progress. With American society strongly opposing and vilifying the strong black woman archetype, can we truly be gladiators? Does the “Scandal” reel mirror the daily trials and tribulations that for many black women are real?