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Nadra Kareem Nittle

“Deception,” “Scandal,” Romance and Race

By January 21, 2013

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When ABC's "Scandal" debuted last year, it was an historic moment in television given that it marked the first time since 1974 that a black actress starred in a network drama. On Jan. 7 another show debuted featuring a black woman as lead--NBC's "Deception." While the colorblind casting of these shows has earned them a great deal of attention, neither has made race a focal point. But should they? A panel of prominent African Americans recently discussed the significance of race on "Scandal" and "Deception" on HuffPost Live.

Both dramas feature interracial relationships. On "Scandal," crisis manager Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) is having an affair with the married President Fitzgerald Grant. On "Deception," Joanna Locasto (Meagan Good) had a secret romance as a teen with the son of the wealthy family for which her mother worked. Now Locasto is living with the Bowers family once again to investigate the death of one of the family members. She discovers that her feelings for her teen flame, Julian Bowers, haven't totally been extinguished.

"On the one hand, you see the traditional stereotype of the Jezebel or the African-American woman who can't have a successful relationship," says Mia Moody-Ramirez, a professor of journalism and media arts at Baylor University, who participated in HuffPost Live's panel. "On the other hand, we see very strong intellectual, charismatic women who are able to hold their own, who people rely on."

Moody-Ramirez suggests that she doesn't expect these black female characters to be perfect, as no one is perfect in real life. But she says the characters on "Scandal" and "Deception" are problematic because "these women are in love with men who do not love them back. ...They don't publicly love them."

That's exactly why I object to the interracial relationships featured on these programs. Both Olivia Pope and Joanna Locasto have feelings for men who don't/can't reciprocate these feelings publicly--thus making their relationships illegitimate. There's also a power imbalance in both relationships. While Pope is an affluent woman who runs an influential crisis management firm, she simply doesn't have the same amount of power available to the leader of the so-called free world. And while Locasto is a successful police officer, she's no match for the powerful Bowers family. But Helena Andrews of TheRoot.com points out that it's unfair to liken the relationship of Pope at least to a master-servant relationship.

She describes Pope as "a truly powerful black woman. ....She's not a slave. She's not Sally Hemings. She's a powerful black woman in her own right..."

Pope may be, but her entanglement with a married man makes her appear weak, in my opinion. What's more, I don't find President Fitzgerald Grant or Julian Bowers to be particularly likeable characters. Both seem selfish, dysfunctional and immature, making the attraction that Pope and Locasto, respectively, have for them all the more questionable.

What's your take on these shows and how they address race and romance?




January 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm
(1) Blondie says:

Being the other woman in ANY relationship is a horrible place to be. I was in love with a black man who did not reveal that he was married. I am a black woman and ended up having children with this man before I found out the truth. Sometimes, falling in love is a senseless act based on uncontrolled passions, imaginary blissful images of what we want the relationship to be. Pope’s situation is much the same as any woman falling in love with a married man and accepting his excuses and promises of leaving his wife. It’s hard to let go of the thought of letting go before the magic happens.
In the end, women caught in this trap have to have enough broken promises, lonely nights, and secret sexual encounters without the benefit of being seen with the one you love, to let it go and love yourself more than the fantasy the mind has built. Color is not the issue.

January 21, 2013 at 5:48 pm
(2) Lola B, says:

As a published author and black female filmmaker, I am often asked to comment on the subject of the program Scandal. Network programmers continue to “dance around” the subject of race by including a gratuitous interracial relationships in the plot lines which may be revealed once every 3-4 weeks and in such a sanitized fashion I feel the show could be quite successful without it.

January 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm
(3) mtgalsal says:

I agree that these two shows do not depict black women fiarly. As a white woman, and an indenpendent woman, I would rather see these ccharacters as strong and independent in their relationships as well.

I am also puzzled about why writers seem to include intertracial relationships so often? Is that an attempt not to appear racist? In the two examples (i.e. Scandal which I watch, and Deception which I do not watch after sampling), could the writers have made the love interests black as well?


January 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm
(4) Snapps says:

Great article! I’ve enjoyed watching Deception this season, and it’s one of the best shows on primetime. I’m a huge fan of Meagan Good’s and my coworker at DISH is too, so we watch the show once it’s recorded. There’re other great shows on primetime and it’s hard to catch all of them at the same time or record every channel. I used to have trouble trying to get all my primetime events recorded until I did the upgrade to the DISH Hopper DVR, and how I can use the PrimeTime Anytime feature to get all the primetime shows I could handle. What this feature does, is it records all four major networks nightly and won’t tie up all the DVRs at home.

February 5, 2013 at 7:59 pm
(5) Bridgettweeter says:

We are seeing so many types of black women. LOVE it. A very smart savvy mistress who fell in love with the wrong guy. A police officer trying to catch her best friend’s killer. A dancer who dearly loves her husband even if he is so far from perfect. All of these are black women and all are desired by all kinds of men. NOT just one.

February 12, 2013 at 8:54 pm
(6) Tara says:

This is a good article but it has some errors.

Both of the interracial relationships these women have are very much reciprocated by their male counterparts. In ‘Scandal”, The President has expressed his love repeatedly to Olivia and even his own wife is clearly aware that hr husband loves another woman. Of course, as a married President he can’t really go around publicly with his feelings BUT a recent episode shows that the President had decided to do just that – go public.
In ‘Deception’, the guy clearly is attracted to Megan Good’s character from the very first episode so I’m not show how the author of the article saw otherwise. In fact, every episode he is trying to court her and she is trying to hold back.

I DO agree that in Deception, the character of being the other woman is not in good light. But, the show “Homeland” also has the main female character (white) in an extramarital affair with a married man. I do get that there probably is more a stigma for Black woman. I, too, want Olivia in Deception to move on and find an amazing single man.

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