It’s been five years since Kerry Washington first donned Olivia Pope’s white trench coat on the ABC drama “Scandal.”
“In the first season it was as if Olivia Pope was race-less,” Washington told Glamour in its May issue. “There was no denying that Olivia was a black woman, because I’m a black woman, playing her in bad— white trench coats that call to attention the fact that I’m not looking like anybody else on television. But we didn’t talk about her identity as a black person.”
That changed after the first season.
“[Since then] the writers have become more and more willing to deal with race,” Washington continued. “When Olivia was kidnapped, it was not lost on me that the fictional president of the United States was willing to go to war to save one black woman at a time when hundreds of black women were missing in Nigeria and we were begging the world to pay attention. Shonda [Rhimes, the show’s creator] was saying, ‘The life of a black woman matters.'”
“Scandal” is now in its sixth season. As for how much longer Washington will play Pope, she said it’s up to Rhimes.
“Shonda has said from the beginning that she kind of knows how it ends. So I’m trusting her to guide the arc,” the 40-year-old actress said. “It’s also important for me to do other work — and playing Olivia gave me the opportunity to become a producer. The charge of my production company, Simpson Street, is to tell stories that are about people, places and situations that may not always be considered by the mainstream. Inclusivity is not about, you know, creating a world where straight white men have no voice; it’s about creating a world where we all have a voice. So I’m excited to start that new journey, as a producer.”
Washington already uses her voice to speak on behalf of civil rights, LGBTQ individuals and women’s issues.
“That idea of holding each other’s hands at the Women’s March — it feels like we are being invited to do that every day,” she said in Los Angeles at the Women’s March in January. “So many of us are feeling attacked, whether it’s a woman’s right to choose or headstones in a Jewish cemetery, immigrants being deported or banned. So many of us feel the need to protect and defend our democracy. And march toward the dream of being ‘We the people.’ So that’s exciting, scary, and frustrating. We’re awake. We are awake more than ever before, and we have to stay awake.”
The mother of 2-year-old daughter Isabelle and infant son Caleb, with husband Nnamdi Asomugha, is partly motivated by making the world better for them.
“My deepest desire is to create a world where there’s room for all of us, where no matter who you are, you get to wake up in the morning and know that you are worthwhile and deserving,” Washington said. “If that’s the world I want to live in, I have to do the work to make that true for me. I have to do the work of self-love and affirmation, and say, ‘I am a woman, I am a person of color, I am the granddaughter of immigrants, I am also the descendant of slaves, I am a mother, I am an entrepreneur, I am an artist, and I’m joyful.’ And maybe in seeing my joy, you can finish your sentence with, ‘And I am joyful too.'”