Just when Scandal fans thought they’d said goodbye to their beloved show for the season, they received an unexpected opportunity to revel in the drama of their favorite primetime TV soap opera—for all the wrong reasons. On Friday night, ABC announced the departure of series regular Columbus Short. It was one of the few Scandal plot twists that viewers saw coming.
On the season 3 finale of Scandal, Short’s character, Harrison Wright, was shown facing the business end of a gun just after receiving a tongue lashing from the show’s father figure, Eli Pope, who acknowledged he was “young, gifted and black” and wasting his talent. The sentiment seemed to apply to the character Short played as much as it did to the man himself.
Short had been unraveling in recent weeks. He was arrested in March—his second time—after a bar fight. In early April, his wife filed a restraining order against him after he allegedly held her at knifepoint, then threatened to kill her and himself. It was his third allegation of domestic abuse. Then came a bizarre radio interview on Tom Joyner where he dropped the infamous n-bomb.
Short released a brief statement about his exit: “At this time, I must confirm my exit from a show I’ve called home for three years, with what is the most talented ensemble in television history.”
On social media, fans assumed Harrison had been murdered in cold blood and responded with the hashtag “RIP Harrison.” Scandal fanatic and humor writer Luvvie Ajayi, who become popular for live-tweeting the show each week, created a mock program for the character’s funeral service that quickly became popular on Facebook and Instagram. Others wondered openly if ABC and show creator Shonda Rhimes had jumped the gun by releasing Short amid only allegations of domestic violence.
Domestic violence is no joke, even if it’s often treated like one. Some would say the alleged events of his personal life shouldn’t have an effect on his career, but it’s also quite possible that as the co-star of a hit network show fueled by corporate dollars, he could be dismissed for bad behavior—or strong allegations of such. And let’s be real: The guy who, in just one month’s time, is accused of battering his wife and also getting into a bar fight has some issues.
I’m sorry to see Short go. I’ve been a fan of his work since he transitioned from backup dancer for Britney Spears to, later, an actor in one of my favorite black films, Stomp the Yard. In Hollywood years he was still a newbie, an underdog who had landed a prime slot on a hit TV show. As Short displayed erratic behavior over the last month or so, I worried about his wife and family and rooted for him to get help and pull himself together. But he didn’t, given that Tom Joyner interview. I respect ABC and Rhimes for parting ways; they seem to take a hard stance against domestic violence. More people should but don’t.
As for what happens to Short now? I hope he gets the help he seems to need. But I’m more concerned about his wife and family than I am about his career. He isn’t likely to suffer the fate of Isaiah Washington, who, despite a credible acting career, has become best known as the “the black guy” who was summarily dismissed from Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy for calling his co-star a gay slur. Until Rhimes announced in March that Washington would be returning to the show after a seven-year absence, his career was largely considered to be lost at sea. A black man can be blacklisted for using homophobic slurs, but it’s not likely he’d be blacklisted for allegedly abusing black women or girls.
If Short can pull himself together fast enough and show some consistent act-right on an apology tour, he'll be fine professionally. Case in point: R. Kelly was accused of urinating on a child on video and still went platinum. Chris Brown beat the brakes off Rihanna and has had several hits since, including his current chart topper, “These Hos Ain’t Loyal.” (Um, why should a woman be when you’re calling her a ho, though? But I digress … ) NFL player Ray Rice got caught dragging his then-fiancee out of an elevator in February after he allegedly knocked her out cold. He’s still on the Ravens—and they still got married. So like I said, Short will be fine, and maybe even back on Scandal sooner than later.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life and the upcoming Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love. Follow her on Twitter.