Kerry Washington is, yet again, stressing the importance of black women in television.
Washington told the magazine that it was as if her character Olivia Pope was “raceless” in the first season, despite the fact that she was one of the only leading black women on television at the time.
“[W]e didn’t talk about her identity as a black person,” she said.
But later in the series, producer Shonda Rhimes and her team started making a concerted effort to actually show Pope as a black woman.
“[Since then] the writers have become more and more willing to deal with race,” the 40-year-old actress said. “When Olivia was kidnapped, it was not lost on me that the fictional president of the United States was willing to go to war to save one black woman at a time when hundreds of black women were missing in Nigeria and we were begging the world to pay attention. Shonda was saying, ‘The life of a black woman matters.’”
The change is especially evident in certain scenes. On the season three premiere, Olivia’s dad, Rowan Pope, gave her the talk many black parents give their children in preparation for a racially biased society.
“How many times have I told you, you have to be ... twice as good as them to get half of what they have,” Rowan told Olivia.
During season four, writers explored police brutality against black bodies in the Black Lives Matter-inspired episode “The Lawn Chair.” During a protest, Olivia crosses the police line to join forces with protesters and chants, “Stand up. Fight back. No more black men under attack.”
Though Washington told the magazine she’s not sure of how much longer she’ll be in what she calls her “most transformative role,” she will be doing more behind-the-camera work with her new company.
“The charge of my production company, Simpson Street, is to tell stories that are about people, places and situations that may not always be considered by the mainstream,” she said. “Inclusivity is not about, you know, creating a world where straight white men have no voice; it’s about creating a world where we all have a voice. So I’m excited to start that new journey, as a producer.”