Rowan Pope was a subject of fascination when he strolled into that airport hangar at the beginning of Scandal’s third season. This remains the case as the show prepares to air its 100th episode on April 13. Rowan made dramatic speeches cool. Beyond that, he and other TGIT (“Thank God It’s Thursday”) characters like Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating illustrated an unimpeachable form of black excellence. However, at the dawn of Trump era, the fortunes of these once invincible characters seem to have changed.
Rowan as Prey
Rowan Pope is like a modern version of a 1970s Blaxploitation film hero. Seemingly unaffected by racism and society’s rules for black people, he “sticks it to the man”. At least one key element is missing — the overwhelming misogyny. In this show created by a woman, Rowan is definitely no pimp or womanizer. We’ve never even knew he had sex until this season.
This missing element helped at least one modern black woman better understand the appeal of the Blaxploitation genre. Some may view Rowan as a villain, but it was easy to cheer when he called the President of the United States “boy” and schooled him on who really held the power. Always one step ahead, he represents the fantasy of a black person who is completely unaffected by racism. Perhaps I’m not the only viewer who screams “Yes!!!!” whenever one of his plans comes together.
Recently all that seemed to change. An unidentified new player entered the story this season to pull Rowan’s strings. The result was another one of his epic speeches. Rowan acquiesced, “I am not the predator. I cannot be a predator — not in this world. I am very smart prey trying to help my species.” With that, Rowan dropped the mask of being unaffected by forces that seek to limit and contain black Americans.
This storyline feels dark. It added a dose of the real world’s racial reality into the Blaxploitation fantasy.
In the wake of the 2016 election, Rowan wasn’t the only TGIT icon to take a sharp fall. Although significantly flawed, How to Get Away With Murder’s Annalise Keating was a picture of black excellence. Every week she ruled the courtroom, and well, got away with murder. And then, that all changed.
Annalise Loses Her Locks
Annalise went to jail. Again powerfully written dialogue summarized the situation. This time it was delivered by one of Annalise’s cellmates. Jasmine recalls seeing the queen-like Annalise on the news with her power suits and flowing Malaysian hair. “Jacked up ain’t it,” she says, “No matter how high or how far we climb, they gonna find a way to pull us back down.” Annalise was torn down, put in her place. The evidence is on her face and in the act of cutting out her weave. Later, this woman who owned the courtroom defers to her assistant when going before the judge.
Again a dose of racial reality invades the fantasy of a woman completed unaffected by forces that seek to limit and contain black folk.
These TGIT characters were born in the Obama era. Perhaps, in some way, they embodied the hope that arose from his seemingly impossible election to the highest office in the land. Black America was holding its breath. Maybe things had changed a little, lifting some of the barriers to fully realizing our excellence.
The election of 2016 morphed that positive mood into one that was far darker. America now has an openly racist president who is unwinding Obama’s policies and attempting to erase his legacy. Perhaps Trump and his supporters want to limit and contain Obama, put him in his place.
Rowan and Annalise’s storylines mirror this cruel shift in American politics and the Barack Obama story. Since the election, these characters have also faced events that exerted great force in trying to limit and contain them. Within this fictional story and the real world, black folk must periodically face the reality of the continued existence of racism and white supremacy. Sometimes those reality checks knock you off your feet — for instance, threatening your access to healthcare, taking the way the love of your life, or depriving you of your liberty.
So what’s next? Well, Barack Obama appears to be enjoying life away from the oval office. He forever changed America by dramatically expanding healthcare, helping the nation recover from a near economic depression, and of course, being the first black president. Trying to destroy his legacy is, quite literally in this case, a fool’s errand. Thanks to advocates of all sorts, the fight is on for all other people of color who are at-risk in Trump’s America. And really many of us will find our way around the barriers — it just won’t be as easy as the way fictional characters make it look.
As for Shondaland, I obviously don’t know what they have planned. But I must admit that I hope that some epic comebacks are around the corner. Burn it down Rowan and Annalise! I don’t even know what “it” is — just burn it down.
(Originally Posted on Medium.com on April 12, 2017)