2:47pm PT by Bellamy Young
How a Female President in 'Scandal' "Let Our Country Practice Seeing Something New" (Guest Column)
I used to sit in The Oval.
It was fake of course, a set left over from a previous White House show that had folded the season before we at Scandal bowed, but its power was palpable all same.
That's the moment I want to freeze in time and invite you into with me: there I was, in The Oval, my character, Mellie, having plowed through victories and crushing failures to get there. She had worked all her life. And yet, even as an actor, I didn't feel right in the room.
In everything that I could draw on via research or process, there was no antecedent to Mellie's presence in America's Oval Office. It was clearly a work of fiction.
As we widen the lens a bit to realize ironically that I was playing all of this while working in a matriarchy, a tiny fractal of hope starts to emerge. [Scandal creator] Shonda Rhimes knew what she was doing. She took her opportunity to acclimate the viewing public to female power in so many ways over the course of our show — having Olivia (Kerry Washington) and Mellie running the country eventually became the natural place to dock the ship. As Fox's 24 before it, it was time to let our country practice seeing something new.
But that phrase can be as slyly demeaning as "diversity," so I will say it another way.
Watching this election season, I was so buoyed by how many new stories were on the presidential stage as the Democrats were searching for their nominee. I was constantly thinking of all of us — whatever the age — who found freedom in stories of gender or sexual identity or race that we had never seen in that context before. And best of all, like the characters in Shondaland, that wasn't the lede: it was what they stood for that mattered. Their character, not their packaging.
Now that may seem to double back on itself, but bear in mind that if it did, you, my beautiful reader, may never have been marginalized or dismissed because of your packaging. I do not walk this world as a victim, but I do walk through it as a woman, and historically that has meant a more narrow path. And yet my path is far wider still than others as we factor in the spectrum of cultural acceptance of race, disability, sexual identity and beyond.
But it feels like we are at the fulcrum point of historic change.
I find much hope in the nation's embrace of so many new stories this election cycle — across the country and up and down the ticket: female, transgender, Muslim, LGBTQIA+, non-conforming, Native and so many more. When our decision makers are actually one of the people for whom they are making decisions, that is common sense fairness to me, for they know the issues first hand.
I also celebrate the way our nation turned up for this election: the highest voter turnout since 1908. Though I am of course heartbroken to find us so divided. It is my fervent hope and deepest belief that when people from varying communities are making informed decisions for the folks whom they represent, we will be able to talk to each other and listen to each other again. I fear the division comes from the once-removed iteration of a "ruling class" making decisions for people whose experience in this life they genuinely do not know or understand. I believe our government should be made up of "We the People" as our Constitution says. A truly representational democracy will yield the richest sense of community and the highest promise of our country.
I am reminded of the meme that shows Kamala Harris striding forward with Norman Rockwell's painting of Ruby Bridges as her shadow: these legislators walk into the room with so many of us with them in spirit. For as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said of herself, she "is the first, but not the last." In the land of the free and the home of the brave, all things should be possible: it is now our job to make it so. All of us. By continuing to show up and be invested in shaping the future of this country together, even — and especially — when we disagree.
May we all hear each other and move forward. Together.
For, gratefully, this moment is not a work of fiction. We wrote this — and it is up to us where it goes from here.
Bellamy Young is an actress whose Scandal character started as the first lady and, by the end of the series, was president of the United States of America. She currently stars on Fox's Prodigal Son.