Kerry Washington on Why Women Must Become Their Own ‘Olivia Popes’ to Fix Politics

Kerry Washington is most well-known for her role as Olivia Pope, a political power broker on TV. Scandal—She was a person who is well-known for being able to accomplish anything. She was both honored and disturbed by Olivia Pope’s trending Twitter status the day after the 2016 elections. Many people were asking for a TV personality to rescue the day.

“The reason we got into this situation is because we believed a person on television could fix things, and the only way we can save our democracy is if we realize we are the Olivia Popes of our communities and families,” Washington told Katie Couric at TIME’s Women of the Year event to celebrate International Women’s Day on Tuesday. “So how do we remind people that they wear the white hat?”
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Washington graced the cover of TIME’s inaugural Women of the Year issue in because of her dedication to building democracy. Simpson Street media is her production company. It focuses on stories from BIPOC women in hopes to inspire her viewers that they can all be the heroes of their own stories. She also created the Vision Into Power Cohort last year to support grassroots groups that help marginalized people and build democracy. Washington supported Joe Biden during 2020 and Kamala Hariri during 2018. She worked closely with grassroots organizations and politicians, such as Stacey Abrams, during the Senate elections in Georgia.

Learn More Kerry Washington used to be a political power broker on TV. Now, She’s One

Photo by Daria Kobayashi-Ritch, TIME

Washington, who was chosen to play the D.C. fixer Olivia Pope in Shonda Rhimes’ series, was 38 years ago the first Black woman in a television drama on network TV. A decade after its debut, Shonda Rhimes’ series has had a long-lasting impact on the culture: Its abortion episode, the first time the procedure was shown on network TV, broke barriers; Washington paved the way for other BIPOC female leads on network TV, from Viola Davis on How to Escape MurderPriyanka Chpra Quantico.

She also talked about playing Anita Hill, another famous feminist hero in HBO’s movie “Hyphenate”. Confirmation. Hill courageously admitted that she suffered sexual harassment from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at his confirmation hearings in 1991. Though Thomas was confirmed, Hill’s testimony brought the conversation about sexual harassment to the forefront of culture.

“I had some young people say to me, oh yeah Anita Hill, she lost right?” she remembers. “And there was nothing to lose. She spoke the truth. This person is still on the Supreme Court. But, the number of women who ran for Congress the following year, the number of women who stepped into power; the cultures that were transformed by suddenly having sexual harassment training or the way in which you say something is happening to me that I’m not OK with—that was amazing.”

Washington produced the project as well as starred in it and remembers teaching the younger people on the set about the importance of Hill’s work. It was through Hill’s role that she learned to empathize about the difficulties of testifying in front of congress. Hill was a consultant on the project. They had a great time laughing about Hill’s power-switch. “I was terrified to sit in that room and look up at all the straight, white, cisgendered men, I really felt [her] fear,” says Washington. “But this time along, they were all working for me.”


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