To see someone on television that looks like you is a powerful feeling. It’s a feeling one can take for granted if their image is the one that dominates the screen. Those on the opposite end of the spectrum, however, who never see themselves on TV, glorify and revere in that feeling, and in the fleeting moments where it comes to life.
One of those moments for black women came last year with the debut of “Scandal,” starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope. Washington's role marked the first time a black woman had the lead role on a primetime network drama since Diahann Carroll debuted in “Julia” in 1968 and Teresa Graves starred in “Get Christy Love” in the early 70s.
“I’d never seen a woman like this on television before,” Washington explained in a recent interview with The New York Times. “And I wasn’t even thinking about race or the fact that I’d never seen an African-American woman as the lead of her own network show, but I knew that this smart, sophisticated, powerful and vulnerable woman was a tremendous opportunity.”
Since the success of “Scandal,” a few shows have emerged starring black women, including “Deception” (now canceled), which starred Meagan Good and “Being Mary Jane,” set to premiere on BET in January. And while "Being Mary Jane" isn't running on a network like the aforementioned shows, it's of note in the discussion on the evolution of black women on television, because it strays from the predictable roles black women have had to portray over the years.
Black women now have new voices and visibility that they didn’t have before, although there's still some room for growth, as TV personality Alesha Dixon shares with Cosmopolitan magazine. “There still aren’t many black women on prime-time TV. Times are changing, but it’s interesting we’re in 2013 and still experiencing firsts. Hopefully in the next 100 years things will balance even more.”
And as we continue to experience firsts, black women have in a sense gone through an evolution of characters on television, from invisible, to perfect, to sassy, to imperfect and real.
With 'Scandal' launching into its third season on October 3rd, we attempted to capture part of that evolution and look at some of the characters who paved the way for Olivia Pope.
Take a look at the video mashup above and tell us who your favorite black female TV character is!
Video by Eva Hill.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Washington's role marked the first time a black woman has starred in a network television show since Diahann Carroll debuted in “Julia” in 1968 and Teresa Graves starred in “Get Christy Love” in the early 70s. We've corrected the article to be more specific as Washington marks the first time a black woman has a starring role in a primetime network drama since Carroll and Graves.