Black women, drama, Olivia Pope, Scandal, Shonda Rhimes, television

Scandal’s Olivia: Lost and Turned Out

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Olivia the slave, got distracted on her way to grandmother’s house


A wolf in lamb’s clothing came


Blew her mind and changed her ways and now she’s turned out


Lost and turned out, lost and turned out***

I am through with Olivia Pope, y’all. Not done. THROUGH!

I was done last season when Olivia offered herself for auction during black history month. I was done when Olivia tried to kill her father and had him imprisoned. Yes, Rowan/Eli Pope is unscrupulous, but so are the election-stealing, murderous, morally-challenged characters she surrounds herself with. Olivia’s image of herself as the good heroine in the proverbial “white hat” is as hypocritical as it is delusional.  Like her parents, lovers and colleagues, Olivia has blood on her hands.

I was another kind of done when Olivia went to Fitz at the conclusion of last season and made herself at home in the White House. They celebrated their reunion as Etta James sang “At Last” — the undisputed anthem for love triumphant. Olivia is so enamored with political power that she refuses to acknowledge Fitz’s lack of character. He’s an adulterer, alcoholic, vindictive, shortsighted and a murderer.

Their doomed relationship is based on mutual co-dependency. Olivia’s “love” for Fitz is all about his political status and the influence it affords her, which is why Olivia will do anything to keep him in the seat of power. Fitz benefits from Olivia’s wise counsel and strategy. His neediness and sense of entitlement demand complete devotion. Any perception of betrayal or inattentiveness — whether real, misunderstood or imagined — is unforgivable to Fitz.

Nevertheless, I managed to hang in there with Olivia hoping she would regain her sense of self and let Fitz go. Instead, Olivia completely lost my empathy when she proudly identified herself as the president’s sidepiece. Olivia’s spontaneous admission — brought on by her desperate craving for attention and relevance — reignited a crisis that was on its way to being resolved without her. Also, like Fitz, Olivia’s neediness leads her to use others. She selfishly strings Jake along, expecting him to be at her beck and call emotionally and physically.

I am through with Olivia, but I am not finished with Scandal. While Olivia is frustrating, Shonda Rhimes’s characterization of her is brilliant. Her flaws and insecurities are realistic. Olivia is the girlfriend who usually has it all together, but loses her common sense in romance. She’s the friend who settles for unbelievable nonsense, ignoring warnings from genuinely concerned family and friends. I have known quite a few Olivias. Heck, I’ve been Olivia. Perhaps that’s why it’s so exasperating to watch Olivia play herself so cheaply.

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What will your kin folks say, Olivia, the slave


It must be breaking their hearts in two


Listen close, they’re calling you 
(Olivia, Olivia, Olivia, Olivia)

Rhimes taps into generational conflicts through the Popes. Olivia represents the post-civil rights, post-racial age. Maya and Rowan Pope came of age during the civil rights movement. Battles fought by previous generations enable Olivia to live a more sheltered and privileged life. As a result, she doesn’t possess the same insights on race and power as her parents.

“I’d rather be a traitor than what you are, Livvie. Cleaning up those people’s messes. Fixing up their lives. You think you’re family, but you’re nothing but the help.” — Maya Pope

“You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have!” — Rowan Pope

I can’t wait to see where Rhimes takes Olivia’s character. Will Olivia pause for some long overdue introspection to figure out who and what are best for her? Or will she become a tragic cautionary tale? I hope for the former.

Olivia break the chains
 (Lost and turned out)


Stop using your body and use your brain 
(Lost and turned out)

Yes, I may be through with Olivia Pope, but I’m not finished with Scandal. Yet.

________________________

***“(Olivia) Lost and Turned Out” by The Whispers (1978)

Music & lyrics by Malcolm Anthony

Adaptations, Analysis, Black women, cinema, Film, For Colored Girls, Hollywood, Movies, race relations, Reviews, The Help, Waiting to Exhale

The Help For Colored Girls Who Are Still Waiting to Exhale

“The black woman is the mule of the world.” — Zora Neale Hurston

Being a black woman in America is to be rendered irrelevant, irreverent and invisible on a daily basis.  Nowhere is this reflected more than on television and in the movies.  We are often shown denigrating each other, raising hell, trying to snare a man à la Flava Flav, or vexing over the identity of the baby daddy.  Other depictions include the jump-off, Mother Earth, confidante, tormentor, victim, and objects of ridicule by men in drag.  The lack of non-stereotypical, relatable images is why the release of such films as Waiting to Exhale, For Colored Girls and, currently, The Help become major events for many of us.  In groups we attend screenings and gather for live and online discussions.  Some are just happy to see themselves, while others yearn for realistic, multi-dimensional characterizations that, unfortunately, are few and very far between.  Perhaps there is an unspoken wish for inspirational and empowering images – a shero – instead of the usual cautionary tales.  As for me, my expectations were tempered long ago.

Waiting to Exhale
 
Even though I was a fan of the book and looked forward to its release, Waiting to Exhale has become unwatchable over the years.  Much of what made it a compelling novel was discarded in the adaptation.  Though the movie featured four black women prominently, the underlying, not so subtle theme was:  White women are more desirable than black women.  The only two scenes worth revisiting feature Bernadine (Angela Bassett): the cathartic car burning and Bernadine’s encounter with James (Wesley Snipes) at a hotel bar.  Their too-brief interaction took the movie to a deeper dimension with unfulfilled promise.  Having read the sequel Getting to Happy, which is now in pre-production, I have no desire to see that as a film.  The good news is the novel is so atrocious that any adaptation will be an improvement.
 
For Colored Girls

Seeing the staged production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf for the first time in the 1970s was an unforgettable experience.  Blown away by the poetry, storytelling and the performances, I left the theatre feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.  I doubted the play with its non-linear narrative could be successfully adapted to film.  My skepticism quickly changed to a strong sense of foreboding when I learned that Tyler Perry would be at the helm.  From the business perspective, I understand why Perry was selected.  His track record at the box office is impressive and he has cultivated a loyal audience.  However, Perry was totally inappropriate for the material.  His forte is comedy – exaggerated, over-the-top comedy with stereotypes and clichés.   His few attempts at drama have been heavy-handed and well-intentioned at best.

Perry’s interpretation of For Colored Girls left me emotionally drained and in need of a nap.  The plotlines were thin and the characters were not well developed.  There were some great performances, including standouts Anika Noni Rose and Phylicia Rashad.  There were, however, missed dramatic opportunities.  Yasmine/Yellow (Rose) was denied the chance to confront her rapist.  Instead her “redemption” was to slap his cold, lifeless face as he laid in the morgue.  The story would have been greatly enriched and more depth added to Yasmine’s character if we had followed her efforts to put the rapist behind bars.  Instead a clumsily, contrived situation was introduced to wrap up her storyline.  What a copout!  In frustration I could only imagine how much more directors like Gina Prince-Bythewood, Kasi Lemmons and Julie Dash would have brought to the production.  I really appreciate August Wilson for insisting on director approval before his plays could be adapted to the big screen.  Can you imagine Perry or one of the Wayans directing Fences?

The Help

In the 1934 version of Imitation of Life, Bea (Claudette Colbert) gets rich from her maid’s (Louise Beavers) pancake recipe.  Delilah (Beavers) wants no share of the profits and is content to continue as Bea’s maid.  There is a scene where the two women turn in for the night.  Bea ascends the stairs as Delilah descends to her room downstairs.  That scene summed up the movie: Black people are happy in their place – tending to the needs of whites.  That same sense of “selflessness” is present nearly 80 years later in The Help, which begins and ends with Aibileen (Viola Davis) comforting and encouraging white females.

“You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important.” – Aibileen

Like Delilah, Aibileen is greatly responsible for Skeeter’s (Emma Stone) success.  When Skeeter is offered a new job in New York, Aibileen and Minny (Octavia Spencer) assuage Skeeter’s so-called guilt and encourage her to go – as if there was ever a possibility Skeeter wasn’t taking off.  Meanwhile Aibileen is unemployed with little to no prospects, and Minny appears destined for a life of servitude with no hope of upward mobility.  In my reimagined scene, Skeeter informs Aibileen and Minny about her job offer.  She justifies her departure while Aibileen and Minny smile politely and exchange knowing looks.  As Aibileen and Minny reflect on the injustice of being used once again, their words wish her well but their eyes do not.  That would have been more realistic.

“I found God in myself and I loved her.  I loved her fiercely.” – Ntozake Shange

Nothing But a Man

I discovered Nothing But a Man in college.  It is now one of my favorite films and the best onscreen depiction of a relationship between a black man and black woman and how it is impacted by racism, loss of income and a child from a previous relationship.  Initially, most of my attention was drawn to the commanding presence of Ivan Dixon as Duff.  I thought his wife Josie (Abbey Lincoln) was too agreeable.  However, with maturity I began to appreciate Josie’s quiet strength and admired how she continued loving Duff, even when he didn’t love himself.  In the midst of hate, violence and patriarchy, Josie did not allow herself to be defined by others’ fears, insecurities and ignorance.  She retained a kind, loving nature and strong sense of self.  Now that’s a shero!  It was then that I began to recognize those qualities in many of the women around me like my mother, grandmothers, aunts and friends.  This is why I don’t get upset or put much stock into how we’re portrayed and perceived anymore.  People who want to believe the worst are going to do so regardless.  I don’t need television and movies to affirm me.  There are sheros all around me, and every now and then I see my shero smiling back at me in the mirror.

 

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