Well, did you sleep with the President or not?
I did not ask Judy Smith the question burning on so many minds as we previewed two episodes of “Scandal,” the new TV series that is loosely inspired by Smith’s life as a D.C. crisis manager to the stars.
“Scandal” was created by Shonda Rhimes, the provocative brain behind “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.” It is based on Smith’s public relations crisis management firm in Washington. The two episodes that I saw were insightful, penetrating and riveting.
“This is Hollywood,” we were told as the screening began. “Everything’s taken up a few notches.” Indeed, Olivia Pope, the main character inspired by Smith’s life, is played by Hollywood starlet Kerry Washington.
But people who work in Washington – in Congress, at City Hall, formerly in The White House – laughed knowingly at some of the dialogue. It is authentic. The ruggedness of Washington work hit home. “There’s no crying – in politics!” somebody said, looking up at a scene of a young woman crying in the bathroom. “Scandal” promises to be as entertaining and stimulating as TV gets. It’s as much about relationships as it is about how Washington works.
There were ten “Scandal” screenings in the Washington area and Smith has done many interviews with local media. At the Wednesday night screening at Lima Restaurant she was greeted with hugs. One young woman introduced herself to Smith as a lifelong fan.
“I have admired you since I was a little girl watching the Monica Lewinski case,” gushed the young woman, who is now a communications director for a Washington politician. “I was eight years old watching the news with my mother, and I would ask, ‘Mommy, who’s that brown lady in the background?’ I have watched your work over the years,” she said.
Watching “Scandal,” I was delighted at another depiction of a tough, smart, strategic, successful African American woman on TV. I thought about Donna Brazile and Gwen Ifill. “Why do we always have to be portrayed as bitchy?” someone in the audience asked. “It’s a necessary toughness,” I said. I was reminded of real-life tough Black women in the Washington area, too. They are tough, yes, but equally compassionate and, above all else, deeply faithful.
These are local tough black women, who held their own and helped their communities from powerful positions in media and government. I’m thinking of former Prince George’s County Councilwoman Dorothy Bailey, WRC’s long-time executive Aisha Karimah, former D.C. Council woman Sandy Allen to name a few. They are powerful, empowering, and deeply faithful. Their faith has yet to be depicted in a TV series.
On TV we see struggling black women praying, but never powerful ones. We see black women in conflict with men. We don’t see their connection to their spiritual beliefs. It’s easier to throw in sexual twists than spiritual ones. I remember my favorite TV character, Claire Huxtable, enjoying romantic evenings with her husband. But I don’t recall any memorable scenes about her faith in a God or her religious practices.
When I worked on Capitol Hill, I joined a group of black women on a weekly conference call dubbed “corporate prayer.” We prayed for our bosses and leaders in both chambers of Congress.
We were of different religions but we all believed in the power of prayer. We reserved a room for prayer service during the health care reform debate. Congressional chiefs of staff, communications directors, and administrative aides prayed collectively on occasion. I hope at least one episode of “Scandal” will depict Washington workers with faith.
At the end of the screening, I did not ask Smith the extent of her relationship with The President – nor did I ask her about her faith. I did what the other guests did. I enjoyed the evening and sidled up for pictures. I later found the answer to the burning question answered in a Washington Post She absolutely did not kiss The President.
Scandal at 10 p.m. on ABC. Click here for previews (http://beta.abc.go.com/shows/scandal), and to join the discussion of the show. Cast members will be answering questions live on Twitter during the first broadcast tonight.
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