Did I ever tell y’all about the time Kerry Washington retweeted me? I’m not going to dig through over 15,000 tweets to prove this, but trust me: It happened.
The year was 2014, and I was still an avid live-tweeter of Scandal—which I then affectionately called ¡Escándalo! due to its over-the-top and ever-escalating telenovela-style shenanigans—and it was season 3, episode 11. And honestly, I was really just quoting Papa Pope, who, at the time, was still relatively new on the Scandal scene when he uttered these immortal words to his TV daughter: “You’re skipping around in a field full of bombs and mistaking them for daisies.”
It sounded like something my dad would say—OK, has said—to me. But back to the moment at hand: Kerry Washington once retweeted me, y’all, and in honor of the artist soon to be formerly known as Olivia Pope, tonight I’m raising a glass of cabernet and a fistful of popcorn in tribute.
In truth, we’ve had a love-hate relationship with Olivia over these past seven seasons—and even more love-hate moments with her series of hairstyles (leave the press-and-curl alone, Liv). But let’s talk about the way this iconic character paved and the legacy she leaves in television history tonight:
Not since 1974’s “sexy and sassy black undercover cop” Christy Love had there been a black female lead on prime-time television when Olivia Pope arrived on our screens in 2012—with her very messy, very brilliant, very powerful Hollywood-meets-Capitol Hill life, loosely inspired by crisis-management expert Judy Smith (save for that whole steamy affair with the white, Republican, sitting-president thing).
But Olivia gave us dimension, daddy (and mommy) issues, gladiators and an anti-hero with a ridiculous work ethic and a fantastic, work-appropriate wardrobe. We will never not love her for convincing us that we, too, deserve a place to “stand in the sun”—with our natural textures flowing free (on occasion).
And yes, our heroine was deeply problematic and easily compromised by good sex (who isn’t?) and political power plays, but she was also ours ... our own complicated, gorgeous, deeply analytical and always strategic icon, and unapologetic in almost all of it.
And can we talk about what this show did for the culture? The layers of blackness, and the soundtracks—including Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar?” and Stevie Wonder’s version of “For Once in My Life,” which is playing as I type—not to mention the original song Stevie composed just for this final episode. Plus, a father bougie enough to run an underground government special operation and have a sommelier-level knowledge of wine, but also real enough to advise his daughter not to “enslave herself in order to fix Massa’s problems” and to school an entire Senate committee on the destructive dysfunction of their own privilege:
I want to see with my own eyes the face of every white, complacent, privileged man who believes that he is in a position of power when he hears the news that a black man has been running this country for the past 30 years ... God bless America.
Yes, Rowan. Yes.
With Scandal, Shonda Rhimes gave us not only a black heroine but also the complications that accompany being black, female and too skilled for a world that has yet to catch up with you—a dilemma many of her viewers could intimately relate to.
I began this post thinking about the many fashion moments Olivia Pope has given us since 2012. But, ultimately, the show boils down to us, a white hat and a cape. Liv wasn’t a perfect heroine—or ever intended to be—but she was a layered one. In the end, even if you never related to her, her very presence was both a cape and a white-hat-wearing hero for complicated, deeply flawed and brilliant black girls everywhere (raises hand).
We’ve alternately loved and left her, but Olivia Pope was a character who expanded the vision of what a black girl looks like to the rest of the world. And while we’re not necessarily aspiring to end up in Vermont (sorry, Fitz), we appreciate that she wasn’t perfect, that she worked at least as twice as hard (just like most of us have) and that sometimes she was the problem.
In these past seven seasons, like many of us, Liv had a well-deserved full-circle moment. She wasn’t always one to root for, but Olivia Pope always showed up for us, and reminded us that redemption is possible, losing doesn’t mean lost, and every goodbye ain’t gone.
I don’t know what comes next for Kerry Washington, but as for Olivia Pope, I think it’s safe to say it’s been handled.