By Andrea Plaid
The R’s Managing Editor Arturo García and I confabbed last week about his adventures at the Democratic National Convention. He regaled me with some blogger star-gazing and gossip, meeting Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, the voting implications of The Tumblr Generation and the Occupy Movement, and the panties-throwing during former POTUS Bill Clinton’s speech. And Kerry Washington.
“Did you get to meet her?” I asked.
“No, but she looks good on the big screen,” he said.
I have to agree: in my big-screen movie, I’d cast Washington as Helen of Troy or Cleopatra, not only because she looks good (a vital attribute of you’re going to cast someone as two legends of human pulchritude, just as you’d cast a beautiful someone as Adonis) but also because she is good–and her work on Scandal and in real-life politics are why.
Say what you will, but ABC’s Scandal is my guilty pleasure.
Yeah, it’s just damn cool to watch Washington’s Olivia Pope (inspired by real-life DC fixer Judy Smith), aided and abetted by and her diversity-as-assumption team, handle some rather pearl-clutching–and usually law-breaking–situations without breaking a bead of sweat, a tone in her voice, a wrinkle in her outfit, or a tear down her face. It’s great to watch a Black woman exist in a universe where her intelligence is deeply respected and her word is not only bond, it’s the law of the presidential land that everyone–even the POTUS himself–follows.
And, yeah, it’s partly because of the way the show handles the lusty-love-on-hold interracial relationship between Pope and Tony Goldwyn’s Fitzgerald Grant: showrunner Shonda Rimes and her creative crew make the hellified leap of faith that not only would no one in the upper DC echelons or the viewer blink an eye at one of the most powerful white men in the US having an open marriage, but also that his white wife condones the arrangement and his Black partner. Watching Pope and Grant, I get them: he’s drowning in love with her and would shipwreck his presidency for her. And, as much as Pope keeps DC’s pearls in place–and sometimes her feelings in deep check to do the job–she feels the same about Grant and would do the same with her own career, if her friends didn’t talk her of that ledge. And, yeah, she did shed some tears about it.
Washington plays Pope as much, much more than a Machiavellian steely hand wrapped in Armani threads. For all her maneuverings–some of which are direct-side-eye questionable, like cleaning up a crime scene so her intern, Quinn, isn’t implicated in a crime–the actor portrays Pope as doing them out of a sense of professional loyalty to her clients and go-to-the-mat love for her employees, who, while some having some sketchy pasts, serve as her support system and conscience as she does for them. Washington’s Pope isn’t a Strong Black Woman so much as a moving image of quiet, still certainty about power’s power to corrupt–sometimes mortally–and the desire and need to see the humanity of the person wielding it, even when it’s her own as she holds the president’s heart and career in her hands.
And Washington holds the best for humanity in her civic life, too. Feministing’s Anna Sterling says this about the actor:
Kerry Washington is one of those few actresses who reminds us that Hollywood can actually serve as a vehicle for progressive change. She openly identifies as feminist in interviews and backs up her words with political activism. She was a supporter of the Obama campaign back in 2008 and is an active member of the V-Counsel, a group of advisors to V-Day, the global movement to end violence against women and girls. She appeared in Howard Zinn’s documentary, The People Speak,and serves on the board of Voices of a People’s History, a non-profit arts and education group using education and performance to bring to life the material inspiring the book Voices of a People’s History of the United States.
Washington says this about her political life, including her feminism, in her interview with Sterling:
I always say to people I don’t participate in the political process as a “celebrity” or person in the public eye. I come from a political family. Talking politics and social issues, it was at the dinner table. It was a part of how I was raised. Giving back and participating in our democracy is part of how I was raised. When I became of the age to vote, it was like a big rite of passage party. My parents took me out to dinner, we talked about who I was going to vote for, and how I was going to decide. I participate in my democracy because I feel really lucky to live in a representational democracy where my leaders only know how to lead if I’m in communication with them. I know how many people have died for me to have this right. I know that the original Constitution of the United States, according to that document, I would be 3/5 of a person, as a person of African-American descent. I know that women went to prison in petticoats for me as a woman to have the right to vote. I don’t take my identity as an American, as a member of this democracy, lightly. I feel that we should all be participating. I don’t feel a responsibility as a celebrity, I feel a responsibility as an American, as a person of color, as a woman.
The term feminist is so inclusive now. There isn’t one way to be a feminist or to practice feminism, to exercise feminism. You can be feminist in lots of different ways because the point is freedom of choice.
I also want to say that I very much identify with the term womanist, but I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. I also identify as a humanist. I don’t think that either of those terms are mutually exclusive.
Wait…I think those drawers aiming for Washington’s head are Arturo’s.