Scandal Season 2: How Kerry Washington is Helping Break the Color Barriers On Television

2013 is shaping up to be a great year for African American actresses on the small screen. For what may be the first time, three African American women are starring in TV shows that are not based on ensemble casts or situational comedies.

Taraji P. Henson stars in the criminal science fiction thriller, Person of Interest, Kerry Washington stars in the political thriller Scandal, and Meagan Good is starring in the criminal who-done-it show, Deception. Henson, Washington, and Good form a core of African American actresses who are bringing their big screen acting chops to television.


Henson plays a New York City detective who teams up with an ex-CIA “wetworks” operative and a wealthy software genius. Together they use a sophisticated computer program to predict and subsequently prevent murder and assassination plots.

Washington’s character is a big time Washington, D.C., insider specializing in crisis management. She is the former press secretary to the president and is having an on-and-off affair with the president. The character was inspired by real life crisis manager and D.C. insider Judy Smith. The show was created and is produced by the award-winning Shonda Rimes.

Good plays a detective that goes undercover to investigate a rich and powerful family grieving over the murder of their daughter.

These characters are not a total victory for African American actresses – Henson’s job is to cover up the mess and loose ends of the male characters, Washington derived most of her power from her personal relationship with the president, and Good’s immediate supervisors are both men- however it is progress none the less.

Allison Samuels of Newsweek wrote “For nearly 30 years, no black woman was cast as the lead of a major network drama.”

Now there are three and as Samuels explained the “shows present a stark contrast to the frequently demeaning images of black women on reality television.”

That is not a knock on reality TV, in fact Devon Franklin, senior vice president of production for Columbia Pictures feels that reality TV opened opportunities for “black women to move into other roles.”

The shows are doing well in the ratings. CBS’ Persons of Interest is in its second season as is ABC’s Scandal which is a hit. NBC’s Deception is in its first season. If they continue to do well expect to see more dramas with African American female leads. Hollywood loves a hit and more importantly a hit formula.