Olivia Pope, the ‘Magical Negro’?

Is Kerry Washington's run as the lead on Scandal nothing more than a rehash of popular stereotypes like the "Jezebel" and others? On Feminist Wire Brandon Maxwell says yes.


On the Feminist Wire, male feminist Brandon Maxwell writes that Scandal is actually nothing special. It presents stereotypes with which Americans are comfortable, like patriarchal characters and a strong black woman who repeatedly saves the day, like the “magical negro” archetype.

On the surface, the show seems progressive. It is rare to see such a diverse and unlikely group of characters come together to fight for a shared cause within a mainstream TV show. Furthermore, Rhimes appears to break the normative Hollywood modus operandi wherein the protagonist is typically both male and white. In fact, she is portrayed as “the great white hope” who is required to save the day alone. But the assumed central character of Scandal, Olivia Pope, is neither white nor male: the flesh of a black woman appears to be at the center of this drama.

Although a black woman is allegedly at the center of the storyline, the standard “ingredients that make Hollywood Hollywood – sex, violence, violation and action – ” (hooks 122) are an ever-present force inScandal. Little changes about the normative Hollywood M.O. other than the fact that Olivia Pope, a black woman, is the one allowed to save the day alone; or in her case, with a team of “gladiators.” But ultimately, everything hangs on Pope’s shoulders alone and her ability to work her magic. [Is Kerry Washington joining the ranks of Hollywood’s magical Negroes?]

Read Brandon Maxwell’s entire piece at the Feminist Wire.

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