With a long record of playing compelling characters, Washington is a natural fit for her highly acclaimed role on Scandal. She stars in the show as Olivia Pope, who owns and operates her own crisis management firm for high-profile figures, making Washington the first woman of color to head a network drama since the mid-‘70s.
With the existence and success of the show across a wide audience, academics and members of the media raised questions about whether the show marked the beginning of a new era in television wherein women could be strong and smart in every hue while carrying a show.
Although Washington feels there is more work to be done before anyone can claim that a new era has begun, at the Women of Sundance Brunch in Park City she praised the show and others like it for showcasing women and people of color’s strength and versatility. She mentioned her gratitude for Scandal in particular, stating, “Thankfully with the success of the show, I really have been empowered financially, logistically, and professionally by a company that sees the value in storytelling by ‘other,’ and for that I am grateful.”
Washington was able to harness this power to start her production company Simpson Street, which gives other talented people from underrepresented groups a chance to be in the rooms where big decisions are made.
“Sometimes the people who are in charge of the rooms, they want us to feel lucky to be in the room, and we are because we are all really blessed to be doing what we love to do and to be able to do it, but that doesn’t mean that because I am lucky and grateful to be in the room that I don’t get to bring other people with me,” said Washington.
A mere 7 percent of the top films of 2016 were directed by women, while 13 percent of writers, 17 percent of executive producers and editors, 24 percent of producers, 5 percent of cinematographers, and 3 percent of composers on these films were female. Hollywood needs leaders like Washington who are dedicated to giving women and other underrepresented groups the opportunities they deserve.
Washington also advocates for women supporting other women, “because us being in the room alone is exhausting,” she said.
To be the only woman, person of color, or LGBT person in a room can leave those people feeling alienated and othered. Washington continued, “We’ve all been there, we’ve all been the only woman in the room where you feel you have to stand up for the entire gender or the entire race or both, and it’s not okay.”
More than speaking about change, Washington is making changes in Hollywood through the actions of her production company, stating, “I think a big part of it is the courage to say ‘great, I’m so happy to be making this deal, but also I’m going to hire another woman to help me run this company, and I’m going to be making a film about a woman, and I’m going to hire an Academy Award-winning woman to write it’ and to never accept that us being in the room is enough.”
With Washington’s recent work as an executive producer for the TV movie Confirmation, which had a female cinematographer and was written by a woman, it seems that the changes she’s seeking are coming to fruition slowly but surely. That new era of television might be closer than people think.
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