A good friend of mine brought to my attention an interesting piece by Brandon Maxwell published by the Feminist Wire last week considering the cultural politics of Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia Pope on the hit drama Scandal. I thought I might offer a short response to Maxwell, because while it was a Black feminist reading, there seems to be something more at stake than his particular application can offer. I want to focus my attention on a point that Maxwell’s critique hinges upon and then offer some questions that might be more interesting.
Maxwell constructs an argument around the idea that Olivia Pope is portrayed as “the great white hope,” but is unable to adequately fill those shoes specifically because of her Black female body. This is exactly the kind of argument which causes old-school, 20th century black feminist critique of controlling images to stall.