'Scandal' Exploits Black Women's Images?

This TV season's stereotypes are "masquerading as something new," says media insider Tom Burrell.

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TR: Better than Scandal?

TB: I've got major problems with Scandal. It comes dressed up and masqueraded as something new, but Scandal is basically a continuing perpetuation of the stereotype of a black woman whose libido and sexual urges are so pronounced that even with an education and a great job, and all these other things, she can't control herself. So, she's basically a reincarnation of Bess from Porgy and Bess; she's the female in Monster's Ball; she's the sexual predator and aggressor. It basically plays into the whole sexual stereotype of black women that's been around from the very beginning, and that basically gives permission for them to be sexually exploited.

TR: So, on balance, when it comes to the images of black women on the show, you believe the negative sexual stereotypes outweigh the positive things -- like her intelligence, power and professionalism?

TB: Yes. The intelligence and professionalism let us go in under this pretext. But the message that is really being delivered is that no matter how much education you get and how much power you get, you've still got that "around the way girl" in you. It's basically saying that black women are innately, inherently, hot to trot. He doesn't seduce her. She seduces him.

TR: Aren't most people on television these days -- regardless of race or gender -- kind of "hot to trot," though?

TB: Black people are not dark-skinned white people. We are not in the same position as white people. We don't have the luxury of doing what they do. When they do something, they get a pass. When we do something, we are reinforcing stereotypes and we are keeping people in their place, which is not an equal place. Until that deficit is made up, we have to overcompensate. You know, in the old days, when you put black people on television, it was to increase your black audience … now I think they're putting black people in these roles to entertain white people, as opposed to drawing a larger black audience.

TR: There's a lot of buzz around the new Issa Rae series that Shonda Rhimes has sold to ABC. Are you hopeful about a refreshing depiction of black women by the creator of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl?

TB: I hadn't heard that, but it seems [based on Scandal] that Shonda Rhimes is on the exploitation boat right now. Sometimes you get into this thing to do good, but then you just do well. And you drop your mission along the way.

TR: What about OWN's recently announced partnership with Tyler Perry?

TB: I am optimistic and hopeful that this powerful, talented tandem will produce work that will contribute to moving us out of our place (last, in all too many cases) and tell us stories that not only make us feel better, but do better. We all should be given the opportunity to change, evolve, expand and grow. In them, I see signs of hope -- signs that they have a new level of consciousness, sensitivity and true appreciation and respect for their power to positively shape how we feel, think and behave.