Scandal: What to Do With Our Power

ABC’s hit TV series Scandal raises the question: how will we manage the opportunities and influence that God has given us?

Ebony magazine just released its March “The Real Life Scandal” Issue, which highlights real life scandals from the black community and features actress Kerry Washington on the cover, sharing her perspective as an A-list actress, political advocate, and health-conscious feminist. Truth be told: We know little of Washington’s personal life and that’s exactly how she plans to keep it. She would much rather prefer that we talk about the nature and accomplishments of her body of artistic work, and since its origin last April, everyone is talking about her hit television show Scandal.

Concerning that show, I got caught up. I love seeing intelligent, articulate, attractive, powerful, relevant, and well-dressed Black women on movie and television screens as much as the next sista. Trust me. The scenes are all the more interesting and impactful when played by such a well-versed and talented actress as Washington. But when all of that window dressing simply becomes trapping for yet another powerful woman who succumbs to the desires of her lustful heart (especially with a married man), all of the respect stored up for the character burns up in smoke. It’s hard to keep cheering for Washington’s character, Olivia Pope, when you know her affair will ultimately result in a loss for all parties involved. Olivia, her lover, and his pregnant wife all lose and that’s the real sad story for many in today’s society.

Actress Kerry Washington accepts the Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series award for “Scandal” during the 44th NAACP Image Awards. (Photo Credit: Jim Ruymen/Newscom)

I want more for Olivia and I want more for us. Behind the camera lens of Scandal is the show’s creator and writer, Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes’ writing is outstanding and the story lines are compelling. She constantly keeps us on the edge of our seats. That’s what makes the show great and so easy to watch. All of her characters are power players, fast talking, and quick on their feet as they engage in a game of chess with each other’s lives. The actors are all phenomenal, but at the end of the day, it’s Rhimes who is in the ultimate position of power.

Through this political drama, Rhimes uses her power to celebrate the stories of those thirsty for greed and power, those with murderous hearts, those who are unapologetic about living lives of lies and deceit, and those involved in unhealthy, adulterous and unnatural relationships. Although Olivia’s entourage refers to themselves as “gladiators in suits,” there are little redemptive qualities in any of the show’s primary characters. It doesn’t take long to figure out that there are no good guys or gals, and that’s the gist of Rhimes’ creation.

Yet my primary issue is neither with Washington nor Rhimes; my concern is with the Christian women and men like me who watch this show weekly with no discernment. I have seen professing Christians defend the show to the nth degree. “Why criticize a work of fiction?” they ask. My first conviction concerning this question came on the day of the Newtown school shootings. The night prior to that horrific event, I watched an episode of Scandal where an assassin killed an innocent family including two small children and their dog. The next day, a Facebook acquaintance and fellow Christian found it hard to reconcile approving of the murder of innocent children on a television, while at the same time being appalled when a similar, yet worst, event happens in real life.

The sad truth of our culture—and Ebony’s publishers play on this reality—is: The lines between fact and fiction, what’s real and what’s fantasy, have become quite blurry. This is the result of a booming market for “reality” shows, over exposure to strangers through virtual lives and social media, the sensationalism of our news reporting (How often do you witness a positive news story?), and the senseless pandering of our politicians. I won’t forget how angry I was when Sarah Palin used careless “lock and load” language all over a news broadcast, and the young man who locked and loaded just days after Palin’s rant. Was this a coincidence? His response resulted in the deaths and injuries of several human beings, including U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. Because this is the culture we live in, we must all be more responsible concerning the use of our power and how we choose to engage our mediums of communication.

We should not use our power to only serve our own self-interests. Many thoughtful African-Americans thought this was the case with BET’s founder, Bob Johnson, and hence they tuned him and the station out. We should not neglect the opportunities to use our power for good in this world, and I believe the messages and images of Scandal present a missed opportunity. Ebony reports that Washington “is the first Black woman to star in a major network American TV drama since 1974.” Therefore, Washington’s accomplishment is worthy of celebration. In addition to Scandal, Rhimes is also the creator, head writer, and executive producer of the dramas, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, both of which at the core tell the stories of flawed humans who are helping and healing other people. Am I looking for all perfect characters on every show? No. Am I advocating for an all Christian line-up with shows full of Christianese language? Not at all.

However, I do believe in a culture where the line between fiction and nonfiction, truth and lies, and fantasy and reality is becoming more unclear, we have to question what is means to have power, and consider the consequences of how we use our power to engage the world. I agree with Kerry Washington that, “Power is always about choices.” Washington chooses which roles she plays. Rhimes decides how she uses her power to tell stories and send messages into the world. As a consumer, I no longer choose to watch Scandal. As a writer, I challenge you to consider: What kind of empowerment do we, as a community of Black people, really want? What will you do, and what should we all do with power once it is obtained?

About the author, Natasha S. Robinson

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a writer, speaker, advocate, Women's Mentoring Ministry Leader, and recent graduate of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary having earned a M.A. in Christian Leadership. Connect with Natasha through her website, www.natashasrobinson.com; blog, A Sista's Journey, Twitter @asistasjourney, and Facebook at NatashaSistrunkRobinson.
  1. Natasha, I feel you all the way. I admit I got hooked on the show because it was fast-paced, I loved watching Olivia solve problems on her feet and the confidence she exuded while doing so. I loved watching her “dance on the edge of the volcano.” But I realized the writers were running out of story lines on the last episode i watched because it was loaded with sexual scenes that were just over the top and in the gutter (always a sure sign of desperation on a show). During the NAACP awards Washington states in essence how offensive to sensibilities the Olivian character is and so opposite who she is what she believes. YET, she plays the character. Something to chew on.

  2. Pingback: HOT TOPIC: ‘Scandal’ and Women’s Empowerment |

  3. Very good and well written, Natasha! I agree with your assessment and I also believe we have a responsibility as Christians to take stands and express opposition to shows (and such) that promote sins like adultery. My only question is, are they (the actress and creator) Christians? If not, then I’m not surprised by what you describe about the show. If so, then indeed we have a problem. Thanks for speaking up and calling for action! Appreciate you!

    • Thanks for the response, Trillia. I don’t always believe question of consideration is as simple as “Are they Christian or non-Christian?” I don’t know if they are or not. However, when considering the Ten Commandments, we now approach them not so much as the law we must obey to be right with God but rather with consideration for what makes for a better community and how we can best love our neighbors. In other words, are we considering the needs (or in this case, implications) of others above our own personal needs (in this case, financial gain)?

  4. I completely understand where you are coming from Natasha, but I see no need to boycott this show. Is the Bible itself not riddled with characters such as these and even worse? These things are all part of being human. What I do wish they would show more of is how the characters battle with ther sins in prayer. The characters are indeed Christians, but that is really shoved asid in the show. The VP character, who is portrayed a what a devout Christian looks like, is also depicted as vicious and conniving. I just feel as though we are being too quick to judge, whn we ourselves and many of the most prominent figures in our Bible have committed similar indiscretions.

    • Hello, I’m familiar with the VP character who is a professing Christian and the problem I have with that character is she falls into the typical stereotype of a right wing politician and as you state is “vicious and conniving.” My purpose is not judgement but rather a call to consciousness. Blessings, Natasha

  5. I agree with you Natasha, and I love the way you’ve approached the subject. Viewing the issue through a lens of responsible appropriation and stewardship of power and influence is thought-provoking and guides us to a deeper consideration of the issue.

  6. Well, I suppose it is food for thought. I just don’t think we should question the moral character of an actress when she is portraying events that occur in so many people’s lives, including Christians. She has an obligation as an actress to portray flaws in characters that people really like. There are Christians, just like Olivia and President Grant, who are as faithful as they come, but do not walk around toting their Bible everywhere and what not. They too, or we also I should say as this describes most of us, know Jesus as our lord and Savior, and the Almighty knows it as well. We just prefer not to use our faith to portray outselves as faultless. I suppose I misinterpreted the tone of your piece. At any rate, I do understand what you are saying. I just don’t think that it is as big of an issue as you feel it is. Blessings to you as well! Thank you!