Kerry Washington On Race, Politics And That ‘Scandal’-ous Abortion Scene

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A few decades ago, if someone said that in the future, a black woman is going to play the lead character on one of prime time TV’s most popular series, win multiple awards, and play a woman who has all the agency of a white female character, you’d probably think that was crazy. But then along came ‘Scandal’ in 2012, and the TV landscape was changed forever (thanks to Shonda Rhimes!).

Kerry Washington, who plays Olivia Pope on ‘Scandal’ represents a new generation of storytelling that seeks to incorporate all the things mainstream media has left out for so long. It’s part of the way all the Shonda Rhimes shows are revolutionizing TV by bringing conversations such as LGBT partnerships, interracial dating, women in powerful positions and more in a non-threatening, inclusive way.

In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, Kerry Washington opens up about some of these topics and shares her view on how a TV show has been able to break down barriers. Race, politics and abortion were the issues discussed and it was an interview worth sharing with our readers.

Given that she plays a political “fixer” and the woman who is secretly having an affair with the President of the United States, politics was a great jumping off point.

“For me, what is political is very personal. Politics are not this abstract idea. Laws are the rules that dictate how we live our lives. What we eat is political. How we dress is political. Where we live is political. All of these things are influenced by political decision-making, and it’s important to be part of the process,” said Kerry, who, for the record, is a democrat determined to use her fame and voice for good.

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Although her on-screen career revolves around the fictional White House, in real life, she has ties to the current Obama administration, serving on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. She has a double major in anthropology and sociology from George Washington University, and in 2013 was awarded an honorary doctorate form the same school for her work in the arts.

Looking ahead to the current crop of Presidential candidates, Kerry says she is most excited to see a woman in the White House, the same way people were energized and mobilized to see the first black man get elected in 2008. Kerry thinks it’s absurd that anyone is even still questioning whether a woman can run the country.

“Why is the ability of a woman to be president even a question? Of course we’re ready for a female president. Absolutely! There were lots of people, both black and white, who wondered the same thing about having an African-American president,” she said.

The most exciting part of politics right now for her is the way people are mobilizing together to have their voices and issues heard like never before, demanding change within the system.

“We have the awesome opportunity, because of the way our country is structured, to keep striving toward the first three words of our Constitution: We the people. We keep having opportunities to make that statement more and more of what it says — for ‘we the people’ to include all people. Even though our founding fathers weren’t ready for that to include African-Americans and women, we are. I love that we live in a participatory government, where our government reflects who we are. I also think we’re at a time of really needing to pay attention to protecting voting rights,” she said, talking about an issue that has caused a lot fo controversy in the past year.

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In 2015, there was a case in Alabama which saw the redistricting of certain voting demographics that disproportionately affecting predominantly African American areas. In other words, gerrymandering. It caused a huge uproar which made its way to the Supreme Court. SCOTUS ruled that the current laws which allowed the redistricting was unconstitutional. The big issue with gerrymandering is that is makes it harder for the lower-income people to access voting booths and is done purposely so they might be deterred from even voting at all.

It was an issue that artists John Legend and Common brought major attention to during the 2015 Oscars when they accepted the award for Best Original Song, saying that although the Voting Rights Act was created 50 years ago, it has been compromised greatly due to the increase of gerrymandering.

This is why it is important celebrities use their platform to bring attention to important issues. With social media being such an ingrained part of our lives, most celebs have the ability to make social change in a way that politicians, teachers, community leaders or parents cannot. It is a powerful thing.

One of the ways ‘Scandal’ is elevating important issues, especially for women, is by being unapologetic and very realistic about the way it portrays Olivia Pope’s sexuality, relationship crises and her career ambitions. Back in November 2015, the winter finale of ‘Scandal’ ended with a scene showing Olivia in scrubs lying on a table in what looked like a gynecologist clinic. The scenario is unclear at first, but then you realize she is getting an abortion. The show’s producers didn’t glamorize it, play it up and dramatize it in any way. They showed it the way it actually happens in real life. Needless to say it caused a HUGE stir, the fact that it was on prime time, and presented it in such a neutral way, without the added baggage of political or moral rhetoric. It was simply Olivia’s story.

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Shonda Rhimes spoke to the media in regard to the backlash saying she doesn’t regret including it in the story line (or any other important cultural topic of the day such as gun violence and race) as the only way to break down shame as well as mythology ans stigma about abortion is to bring it to the table in an unapologetic way. Kerry agrees with how important this is.

“[Abortion is] a reality, and more often than not, it’s a really difficult choice to make. The same was true for Olivia. But by not having those moments represented in media, we add to the idea that there’s something shameful to be talked about. It’s always important that our storytelling reflects the real experiences of human beings, because it allows us to not feel as alone,” said Kerry. Amen to this!

It’s why numerous women who have had abortions are currently testifying before the Supreme Court, politicians, lawyers, doctors, mothers and more, bringing the individual and personal perspective about abortion back into the legislative issue in order to persuade the judges to rule in the favor of pro-choice women in what could potentially be a case that overturns Roe v Wade.

The case is arguing that Texas’ HB-2 law requiring abortion clinics and doctors to meet certain types of surgical standards is unnecessary and will continue to force the closure of more and more clinics, which has steadily been happening over the past few years because of this law. Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers need to remember the women’s lives who are at the center of this debate, not the political brownie points they are trying to win in elections.

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In her next role, playing the embattled Anita Hill in an HBO movie due out later this year, Kerry hopes to bring up conversations about race, harassment toward women and sexism, as this is what Anita Hill went through in the early ’90s when testifying against Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas who allegedly sexually harassed her. He was never convicted, and Anita was slut-shamed (before that even became a term) mercilessly by the press and everyday people.

“We all need to remember this story. The hearings put sexual harassment on the table and changed our cultural conversation around gender and sexuality at work and around victims’ rights — and about racism — on a national stage. We deal with a lot of these issues in a much more evolved way as a society,” said the actress.

It’s really awesome to hear a woman like Kerry address topics that are really hitting a nerve for a lot of people in society today, not just in America but around the world. While we are going through so much change and being forced to shift our perspectives with issues like race and politics, it is encouraging to see mainstream media and entertainment giving a platform to stories that need to be told. Kerry Washington says she is working on producing digital content for the future that she won’t necessarily star in, but which she believes is another avenue to share powerful messages.

“Content is going through such an exciting shift. Content is taking on such a different structure, as is how we engage with it, and it’s fun to be in that adventure,” she said.

If you haven’t already seen it, watch the “scandal”-ous (see what we did there?) abortion scene from the ‘Scandal’ winter finale below:


 

 

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Channing Dungey Becomes The First Black President At A Major US Broadcast Network - GirlTalkHQ

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