In Thursday's episode of ABC's "Scandal," an unarmed black teen is shot and killed by a police officer in Washington, D.C. The boy's father watches over the body, sitting in a lawn chair and holding a firearm, as officers and neighbors descend on the scene and Olivia Pope tries to calm the situation.
The episode, "Lawn Chair," comes the same week the Justice Department released its investigation into the Ferguson Police Department. As BuzzFeed's Emily Orley noted, the episode received mixed reaction online; some thought it was powerful, but others wished the show wouldn't take on current events.
Kerry Washington, who plays Pope, said it took her breath away, while Ava DuVernay, who directed "Selma," said she appreciated the effort it took to write and direct an episode like that.
An episode like this isn't easy. Isn't easy to write. Isn't easy to direct. Isn't easy to get on air. I appreciate the effort. #ScandalABC
— Ava DuVernay (@AVAETC) March 6, 2015
"The Good Wife," which runs on CBS, also had an episode about a white cop who fatally shot a black teenager earlier this year. It began with a disclaimer that it was "written and filmed prior to the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island." An A.V. Club review called the disclaimer "odd and uncomfortable" and said the episode was "hollow, bizarrely sober, out-of-touch."
Striking the right tone for such a sensitive topic is very difficult. Racism is seen as the most important problem facing the United States by 13 percent of the country, the highest it's been since 1992 and the Rodney King verdict. A December Washington Post - ABC News poll found 48 percent of all adults approve of the grand jury decision not to bring criminal charges against Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson, while 45 percent disapprove.
As Jon Stewart noted, this week's Justice Department's investigation basically reinforced whatever people already thought about what happened in Ferguson; it both cleared Wilson of civil rights violations while also detailing racially biased practices by the Ferguson Police Department. The country is deeply riven on race, and it doesn't look like a majority of Americans will be seeing eye-to-eye on this any time soon.
Doing television on race, racism and policing isn't easy, but it seems like "Scandal" hit the mark. The episode is emotional, and it earned rave reviews from actors and others including Judy Smith, the woman who inspired the character Olivia Pope.
— Judy Smith (@JudySmith_) March 6, 2015
BRILLIANT WORK! #Scandal WOW! Intense important transformitive (my "bathroom break" is about to last for another 11 min)
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) March 6, 2015
Just got home to see the east coast feed of #Scandal. I'm so moved...so unbelievably proud to be a part of this incredible show.
— Portia de Rossi (@portiaderossi) March 6, 2015
— scott foley (@scottkfoley) March 6, 2015