Scandal to Insecure: Black Women Writing It All

shonda issaFive years later and this evening commences the final season of Scandal. Regardless of how you feel about the over-the-top plots and twists, there is no debating the importance of Olivia Pope’s television existence. Her existence segued the joy that we all felt seeing Viola Davis not only kill it in How to Get Away With Murder, but break down barriers as the first woman of color to win an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a syndicated drama – making way for her Oscar win for her phenomenal FENCES performance.  I cannot tell you how happy I am that I am alive in the age, power and influence of Shonda Rhimes—whom I refer to as Mother Shonda, the ruler of what the faithful call Shondaland.

As a black woman, whom just happens to write, I am overjoyed. The reason for that joy is found in my recollection of today’s television as it competes with tv shows of my childhood. I am old enough to remember Dominique Deveraux on Dynasty, portrayed by the indominable Diahann Carroll. However, this joy doesn’t begin with her, it reaches past her to Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Sapphire and Opal on Amos and Andy. It is in the boldness of Diahann, seen in the show Julia (1968-71), that began to reshape the mold in which society had stuck and permanently affixed black women.  Diahann Carroll said that she would argue with the writers about how Julia should be portrayed. Julia was a single mother and a professional, but the writing staff comprised of white men had differing views from the black woman playing this role on how she was to exist on tv.

Now, in the post Good Times, Dif’frent Strokes, Cosby Show age, we have Olivia, Annalise, Mary Jane, Issa and Molly. We are at the point where the words of Olivia Pope in the trailer for this final season of SCANDAL become a reality for black women in television. Papa Pope tells baby girl protégé that she can’t have everything. Olivia smirks, complete with bright eyes and answers, “Yes, I can.”

Why can she?

Olivia can because there are women behind her and in front of her that can. There is freedom in writing, and writing what you know. It took a black woman writers such as Mother Shonda and Issa Rae with flaws and complete personhood whom exercised the vastness of their own emotional liberty, to create a black woman of the same strength and ilk. Although their beauty and power is pleasing to society, they are broken, frustrating and invoke us to scream, “Girl! What the hell are you doing!” at the screen more often that we might admit in our GroupMe chats while we’re watching. Issa pushes the boundaries even further by creating a character who is no one’s boss and appears more flawed than any of us would like to think we are, yet we love her nonetheless.

They remind us of our mothers, best friends, our own selves, our flaws and our goals. We get the freedom to shed the molds and stereotypes we encase ourselves in when media is concerned. We can shine without being impossibly perfect or oversimplified in the mammy or jezebel stereotype. We get to experience the thrill, stress, laughs and fierce monologues of women like ourselves in pursuit to “have it all.”

To convey a voice, you must hear it and be familiar enough to repeat it and speak in it with honesty. What Shonda has done, and now Issa Rae, is to create spaces for black women to be their complete selves. There is no need to fight with writers or scripts that have no idea what is to be you or miss the mark in their portrayal of black women. Whether you agree that we can or cannot have it all in real life, there is now no doubt that black women can definitely write it all and enjoy our multi-facetedness displayed on our evening drama lineup.


Jennifer P. Harris | Write To Live Team


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