Olivia and Eli Pope
Forty five years ago, Diahann Carroll was the first black actress to star in her own show who didn’t play a domestic worker. Her role as a nurse in “Julia” earned her an Emmy nomination in 1969. Kerry Washington stars in “Scandal,” and was nominated this year in the lead actress category in a drama. Neither won the Emmy but both have broken ground as African American females to lead in a major network television series.
My daughter was not born when Julia was on the air, but she is desperately in love with all things Scandal. She reads all the blogs, tweets, web posts, and magazine articles she can find on the wildly popular show. She calls herself “Scandal’s Biggest Fan.” The title is entirely self-promoted and unofficial of course, but she relishes in converting as many newbies as she can to life within the realm of Scandal.
I have watched close to half the shows. I find them entertaining, if not a little addictive. The last two shows however have really caught my eye. Joe Morton plays Eli Pope, Olivia’s father. In the show, he is a complex character who runs a fictitious government spy organization known as B-613. The audience did not know that he was her father until the last few episodes. An interesting twist to say the least since Morton’s character trains his spies in the fine art of killing. In the process, they utilize torture, mutilation, and other extraordinarily manipulative and covert means of extracting information from the unfortunates that come under the lens of the organization.
Until recently, Olivia thought that her father worked in a museum. As my wife and I watched the show last night, I realized something very fascinating. I could not recall a television show that depicted an African American woman with a strong lead father figure. In the last two episodes of the show, Olivia and Eli are depicted as two strong lead characters who play off each other well. Eli is wealthy, well-educated, powerful, and articulate. One can easily see where Olivia’s character inherited her power and intelligence from. I cannot recall another television series that showed African Americans in that sort of light.
I recall The Cosby Show with Cliff and Claire Huxtable, but those two characters were not politically powerful in any sense of the word. There was a father figure present, but he was a bit player in the series. Eli Pope sends shivers down the spine of the President’s Chief of Staff. His operatives affect the course of governments. His daughter Olivia is one of the most powerful and connected women in the country. She is also the President’s lover. Never before have we seen such power on television in the African American community. Ironically, this happens at a time when the President, First Lady, and US Attorney General all happen to be African American. History in this way, has helped to evolve the consciousness of our country at least a little.
Watching the dynamic energy between Olivia an Eli is breathtaking. When Olivia decided not to have dinner with her father, he decided to play a dangerous psychological game with her that ultimately led to the rekindling of their Sunday meetings. The ability to manipulate others seems to run deeply in the Pope genome.
My daughter and I talk about almost every show at the end of each episode. Last night’s episode was particularly poignant and terse. We enjoyed learning more about Olivia’s past and we are anxious to see where she and her father go with their conflict. If you have not seen it, it is truly riveting television.
I look forward to seeing where the show will take the two of them. Yes, I know that they are not the main overall focus of the show. Yes, I know that the President will eventually end up in bed with her again. Yes, the basic premise of the show is chaos and scandal. But for the moment, I enjoy watching network television visit groundbreaking arenas by depicting African Americans use political power. It is a rare and breathtaking sight.