I have meant to write this letter for a good minute. To begin this quite succinctly, I have two words for you:
I owe you an apology.
Lately, I was beginning to doubt you as an actress.
I admire you greatly as a scholar, graduating from George Washington University with two degrees (anthropology and sociology) and induction into Phi Beta Kappa. As a budding scholar myself, I look to you for inspiration. You show me that black girls from the inner-city like me can duke it out with the best of the brightest minds out there.
I am always pleased by your opinions on issues of race, class, and gender. You are one who recognizes the importance of intersectionality. You give us hope as a figure in the public eye when you assert that post-racism is a myth. We need more figures of influence to express things of this nature vocally.
However, recent roles had me a little troubled. I was not too fond of Django Unchained for reasons that have been debated immensely on the Internet, in friends’ circles, film screenings and discussion events everywhere, so I spare the drawn-out explanation. One thing I will say is that I am never fond of damsel-in-distress characters (which is the name of the game in spaghetti Westerns, I suppose).
But it was Scandal that really set me back. I legitimately refused to watch Scandal as the first two seasons aired. I judged the book by the cover; when people told me she had a mistress relationship with the President, I was turned off. Then I heard the President was white, and it immediately reminded me of your character in Django, which infuriated me enough to not watch the show. I would rather see healthy interracial relationships than unhealthy, and I did not want to see Olivia Pope be disrespected in such a way. I thought the show was only going to perpetuate the same narrative from the days of slavery, and that regardless of her occupation, that her relationship would overshadow her feats as a career woman.
Girl, was I wrong.
I decided this summer to watch the first two seasons of Scandal. I do not remember why; I just did. I went from skeptical, to angry, to sympathetic, to empowered. Olivia was so much more than someone that had this relationship with Fitz; she was selfless. She was passionate. She was strong. She was in love. She was heartbroken, but healing. She represents women who have fought for centuries to be in a position of power, of influence. She represents women who are not afraid being successful. She represents women who struggle with preserving one’s self in the midst of finding love and abundance. She represents women who have fallen, but picked themselves back up. She represents women who are loyal to the ones they love. She represents my mom, my grandma, my aunts, my cousins, my sisters, my friends. She represents me.
(And she ALWAYS dressed fly!)
For you to be the face of Olivia is monumental. For you to immerse herself in her journey is something I now appreciate. For you to draw from the experiences of women, regardless of race or creed or nationality is groundbreaking. But for you to be a black woman in this role is inspiring.
My best friend wrote a poem about Olivia Pope once and likened her experiences to my own. I did not have an issue with it because she was speaking about her tendency to want to “fix things” even though it may come at an expense to her well being (my life :P), but she did put my name in the poem and I asked her to take it out, saying, “I don’t want to be equated to a mistress!” Needless to say, I now don’t have a problem with it. Because Olivia is nothing like a mistress. And Kerry, you are everything like a beautiful, inspiring woman.
Keep doing what you’re doing, dear.