Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Olivia Pope: The Help?
By Briana Whiteside
I’m sure the amen corner was silenced when momma Pope told Olivia Pope that she is the help. Maya—momma Pope—says, I’d rather be a terrorist than what Olivia Pope is. “Cleaning up those people’s messes. Fixing up their lives. You think you’re family. You’re nothing but the help and you don’t even know it. And if that’s all you want out of your life baby that’s none of my business.”
We waited anxiously for Olivia’s response to the accusation. And, as I expected, she responded in denial with, “you don’t know what you are talking about!” I have to admit, I was not surprised to hear Mrs. Pope utter these words. I have been trying to think critically about the representations of black women characters on tv for some time now. More specifically, about the representations of Olivia Pope and Mary Jane Palm.
Yet, what I found more interesting is whom Livie confides in. Cyrus—another marginalized character—a 50 something year white gay male Republican. The dynamics of the conversation between momma Pope and Olivia as well as the side bar that Olivia has with Cyrus are interesting. Olivia asks Cyrus, “Tell me we’re not the help. That I am not some maid with a mop in my hand cleaning up messes when they ring the bell.”
These two important dialogues could not be had by other characters on the show. Yet, despite Olivia being distraught at her new revelation, she still shows up for “work” to make sure the Grant family’s interview goes smoothly. And, in one of the last scenes right before the show ends, we see Olivia handing “America’s baby”—Theordore Wallace Grant—to Millie, as she smiles and says “Thank you Olivia.”
The camera pans the room, and Pope is the only black woman there. But now out of the spotlight, to watch on, and ensure that things go smoothly—she is just a presence, not family. Domestic work at its finest! Job well done.
Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.