Kerry Washington made history as the first black woman to play the lead in a prime time drama in 38 years. Her character on ABC’s “Scandal,” Olivia Pope, has been criticized by some, but many laud Pope’s sense of independence, poise, professional success and even her vulnerability. As Kerry Washington prepares to play a decidedly different character, “Broomhilda” in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” she spoke with Elle Magazine about how both roles speak to preconceived notions about black femininity.
Here’s an excerpt:
On playing Olivia Pope: She’s phenomenally successful, able to control her world and makes things happen with clarity and force in her profession.
On Olivia’s style: I chose pale pastels and earth tones – no black or navy suits. She spends her days saying things people don’t want to hear. She has to balance that by wearing things that make people safe and comfortable.
On playing a slave in Django Unchained: Without Olivia as my day job, I don’t know if I would have been able to play Broomhilda. She has strength I knew nothing about. Tarantino is a director who’s not intimidated by blood and gore and violence and the darker side of the human soul.
On being chained in stocks and whipped: That day on set broke all our hearts. To find the strength in that circumstance was mind-bending.
On playing the damsel in distress: Look I can see how it’s not particularly feminist to play the princess in the tower, waiting to be saved. But as a black woman – we’ve never been afforded that luxury. There was no man coming to save you; it wasn’t part of the story. In some ways, this telling is a statement of empowerment.
We’ve seen black women occupy stereotypical roles such as the asexual Mammy or hypersexual vixen, but rarely do our actresses play the damsel in distress. Though the “princess in the tower” role isn’t prevalent for black actresses, is it empowering? What are your thoughts, Clutchettes?