Olivia Pope and President Fitzgerald Grant, fictional characters on the TV show “Scandal,” have one of the most popular star-crossed relationships on TV. Whether it’s the interracial angle or the fact that Grant is a sitting president in love with someone other than his wife or the steamy sex scenes that just flirt the line between network and cable, we’re not sure. What we are sure of is that Black female viewers have fully embraced Pope, (played by Kerry Washington) and Fitz (played by Tony Goldwyn) as the TV couple to watch.
But why? Can these be the same Black women who chastised Alicia Keys and Fantasia for dating/sleeping with married men? Are these the same women who think infidelity is wrong in real life but okay in the context of the alternate universe of TV land? Well, maybe. But it could be because President Grant is white. Surprisingly enough, when Fitz’ main rival (at first) came along, he was a worthy candidate. Edison Davis, Olivia’s other love interest and former fiancée was a senator, a tall and good-looking Black man who was nonetheless deemed “boring” and “Cosby-esque” by “Scandal” viewers. Huh? A good-looking, educated Black man with a good job with good benefits, a job with the potential to last for years and possibly advance to the highest office in the land doesn’t get the win? How, exactly, does that work?
Maybe it’s because, as the Internet would have you believe, Black women can’t wait for a fabulous white man with good credit and good looks to come along and knock them off their feet. Many an Internet battle has been waged about the relative merits of dating white men as opposed to Black ones. Perhaps Fitz’s willingness to risk his marriage and his job to be with his Black mistress simply fulfills that fantasy desire for some Black women. It doesn’t hurt that actor Tony Goldwyn, the boyish preppie villain from “Ghost,” has aged into a good-looking, 50-something who doesn’t have to feel ashamed by shirtless scenes. Or maybe it’s because any woman can appreciate a man who, when his first opportunity arises to make love to the woman he desires, he simply says “Take off your clothes.” Yes, fellas, we like it like that sometimes.
But what if Fitz were Black? Kerry Washington has gone on record as saying she wouldn’t have played the part of Olivia if the president had been African-American. She told Eurweb.com just recently that due to her work with the White House in real life, she didn’t want there to be any misinterpretation. (As it is, Judy Smith, the real-life Olivia Pope, has to regularly fend off rumors of a presidential affair .) Though this didn’t stop “24” from casting Black actress Penny Johnson Jerald as a diabolical First Lady to Dennis Haybert’s black president, Haysbert played his role well before Obama was elected. And although it seems ridiculous for people to think a fictional show would reflect poorly on a sitting president in real life, we’ve already seen how far people’s imaginations can stretch when it comes to President Obama.
Casting Fitz as a philandering Black president who has an election stolen for him and who resorts to murder to cover it up once he finds out, might have had people thinking “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes and Smith were in possession of some insider information. Yes, people are that stupid; it has been said that ABC cancelled “Commander in Chief,” starring Geena Davis as the first female president because people thought it somehow influenced Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Given the stereotypes that already exist about Black men, and the fact that Obama’s happy marriage has refuted them, having Fitz be black would have just distracted people from the show and it’s real theme which is the everyday shadiness in Washington. That Fitz, white or Black, has been portrayed as a world leader with a huge swath of humanity and vulnerability is a character choice any one familiar with Rhimes’ work on “Grey’s Anatomy” is already comfortable with. Rhimes and her writers create complex characters that people root for even when they make dumb decisions. Olivia Pope can fix everything but her own messy personal life and that’s kind of the point. If the president was Black, that would just turn into more of the “Why black people always gotta be……” talk that goes on already, but to a lesser degree. A Black Fitz is a man bringing down his family. A white one is a man willing to risk it all for true love. Let’s keep it real – that’s a storyline that some of us find much easier to take.