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The Brilliant Ways In Which ABC’s ‘Scandal’ Deals With Race

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Oct 09, 2013 | 10:00am EDT

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Last week ABC’s hit series Scandal made its third season premiere, and with 10.5 million viewers tuning in, it’s safe to say that creator Shonda Rhimes is doing something right. Well, we’d say she’s doing a lot of things right, and one of those things is the way in which she deals with race.

The season premiere had two especially brilliant moments that subtly/not-so-subtly brought up the question of race and racial politics in Washington D.C. and in American society. First, there was the explosive conversation between main character Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) and her father, who we are just now getting to know. Olivia’s father comes down on her hard for her recent troubles, having been outed as lover to the President of the United States. Without saying anything specific about the fact that they are black professionals working in a system/country where they are the minority, he simply demands that she repeat the one lesson he has taught her since she was a young girl: You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have. 

And instead of dwelling on what that really means — and how powerful (and true) that statement is — the characters move on, and the show goes on and we’re left with our jaws on the floor. And because of that, we love Shonda Rhimes.

We also love that the Vice President on the show is a total right-wing, conservative Republican woman who — in the middle of the season premiere — comes down on the gay White House Chief of Staff and casually throws this one out there: 

I have never once mentioned what I think of your Godless homosexual lifestyle and that poor sweet brown baby you dragged into it.

Whew! And then the characters move on, and the story goes on and — once again — we’re all left with our jaws on the floor.

Even though Rhimes and her writers do not appear to dwell on the issue of race, it shows up in every episode just as it did in the recent season premiere. The very fact that the main relationship on the show is an interracial one is significant, but it’s complicated by the fact that Olivia Pope is not just a black woman in love with a white man; she’s in love with the President of the United States. And he’s in love with her. Race, though a real issue that comes up at times between them, is not the primary issue and this alone makes for a compelling racial narrative.

We’re excited to see the other brilliant ways Rhimes handles the complexities of this subject throughout the new season of Scandal. Oh, and if you’re not already watching, then what—pray tell—are you doing with your Thursday nights?

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