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?