Imagine someone other than actress Kerry Washington to play Olivia Pope in Scandal. The whole show would’ve been thrown off, right? During the original casting in 2012, Connie Britton was ABC’s first choice for the role. Britton had just finished filming Friday Night Lights and other casting choices were all white actresses.
“Nothing felt more important than the sense of outsiderness,” creator Shonda Rhimes told The Hollywood Reporter. “I didn’t know that there hadn’t been a drama series with a leading black woman for 37 years.”
It wasn’t a issue of producers trying to decide if a fictional character seemed more like one race than another. Olivia Pope’s character was loosely based on lawyer and CEO Judy Smith, who is African-American, and eventually, the show’s production came to the conclusion that the role should be played by someone of the same race.
Smith is recorded discussing her career in the video below, mentioning many of the scandals that inspired the aptly-titled show.
When the show was still in the works, Rhimes received a call from someone saying, ‘This would be the perfect show for Connie Britton.'” Rhimes’ response, “It would be, except Olivia Pope is black.” Casting director Linda Lowy adds, “The network was reading us their top choices, and it was Connie and all white women.” They ultimately, and rightfully, decided to re-do the casting list.
If Britton was cast as Pope, the show might not’ve become the series we know and love. Also, Britton would never have taken her pivotal role as Rayna James in Nashville.
When a story, fictional or not, envisions a character of a certain ethnicity, particularly one whose race makes up a large part of their identity, that aspect needs to be honored for accurate portrayal. It’s also a more inclusive move for minority groups and actors and actresses who might not be as well-known as others. Whitewashing in the Hollywood industry is a serious issue that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. What with recent films and shows like Ghost in the Shell, The Great Wall, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist and Death Note, this is something that needs to be worked on for years to come.