All Thanks to Olivia Pope | National Humanities Center

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All Thanks to Olivia Pope

July 17, 2020

Scriven, Sarah (PhD Student in Women's Studies)

Television; African Americans; Women; Feminism; Conferences;

I decided to go into academia at a panel about Scandal. It was 2015 and I was a college senior.

Like millions of other fans, one weekly joy was Shonda Rhimes’ Thursday night primetime takeover: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. The thrill of these Thursdays was not only the juicy and ridiculous plots, but the chance to see dynamic stories of Black women on television. Between my friends, my mom, grandma, and Black Twitter as a whole — we all had something to say. Yall remember the episode when Olivia is kidnapped, locked in a basement of sorts, but her hair remains frizz and kink-free?

The Shondaland symposium, hosted on my campus, brought together Black women scholars from an array of academic disciplines ( History, Women’s Studies, Law, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Black Diaspora Studies, and Media Studies) to discuss this beloved tv takeover. As speakers framed the moment, I learned how historic this cultural production was. There hadn’t been a Black woman lead on primetime TV in more than forty years. That day I entered a great cipher (as Gwendolyn Pough would call it)… brilliant Black feminists came together in the intellectual and honest riffing of ideas. The discussions were, of course, genius. No stone went unturned. These scholars took up everything from what it meant to envision a Black woman with the power to run the State, how Rhimes’ complex characters transcend archetypes of Black womanhood, to Black women’s still unprotected status under the law. The panelists engaged in the more pressing issues too: Fitz or Jake?, favorite sex scenes, hand-bags, petticoats, and iconic Poppa Pope speeches. Between giggles, I feverishly jotted down notes.

In the humanities, we take up questions pertinent to the dynamism of personhood and complexity politics. Yet, Black women are often left out of the mix. By senior year of college, I had come to know that I loved the humanities. This moment was the moment I learned that the humanities could love me back.


Film and Media / Gender and Sexuality / Television / African Americans / Women / Feminism / Conferences /

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