“Scandal” Tackles Ferguson

Shondaland let a topical dose of reality enter its melodramatic terrain in the March 5 episode
of “Scandal,” which pivoted around the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager named
Brandon Parker at the hands of a white cop, and the results sparked passionate reactions from

Titled “The Lawn Chair,” the episode had Olivia Pope navigate what was clearly a Ferguson-
inspired situation in the nation’s capital, hired by D.C.’s police department to diffuse the matter
before ultimately siding with the mostly African-American protesters.

Talking to some of the “Scandal” fans at Howard, you’ll hear mostly positive reactions
to Rhimes’ handling of police brutality and institutionalized racism in America: words like
“powerful” “intense” and “moving” were frequently used, particularly by Fred Sands, a junior
TV Production major from Atlanta, Georgia.

“I thought it was great that [Shonda] got to use her platform to raise awareness on such a
topical event,” Sands said. “The imagery was real, honest… It was one of the best episodes
of ‘Scandal’ I’ve seen.”

Jade Shephard, a senior biology major from Los Angeles, California, called the episode
intense and enlightening, and regarding episode’s subject matter, said of Rhimes, “She handled it
as best as she could.”

Dywanyé Watkinson, a junior film major from New Orleans, also appreciated the episode’s
topical resonance.

“I thought it was important,” she said. “It was kinda cheesy, but what it stood for, I thought
that was needed.”

Cheesy is perhaps an easy descriptor to throw “Scandal’s” way, and perhaps also clumsy.
Watching the often completely bonkers melodrama can sometimes feel like listening to a jazz
musician run through “Flight of the Bumblebee” as fast and as loud as he can, never worrying
about tripping over notes.

There are elements of that feverishly pitched style in “The Lawn Chair.” The episode gets its
name from the decision by the slain teeenager’s father (played movingly by Courtney B. Vance)
to sit in a lawn chair over his dead son’s body, shotgun in hand and demanding his son’s killer.
Some students, like junior accounting major and New York native Nia Logan, felt this sort of
thing could only happen in Shondaland.

“It was unrealistic. A lot of things that happened in the episode would not happen in real life,”
she said. “It was extreme.”

It was certainly extreme when Vance’s character lets a shotgun blast go before a crowd of
gun-ready cops. In reality, one can imagine his character laid out right beside his son. Some
viewers also noted how things resolved itself so neatly and tidly.

“It isn’t usually that simple,” Sands said.

Still, others admired the hopeful ending to the episode: the father lived and the cop was
arrested. It was an ending far neater than the traumas and tragedies that plague America today,
which look to stretch to infinity. “The Lawn Chair” comes to us as the U.S. Department of
Justice report on Ferguson, Missouri’s police department exposes a pattern of racially biased
police enforcement and a number of racist emails between officers.

And just a day after the episode aired, 19-year-old Tony Robinson was shot and killed by a cop
in Madison, Wisconsin. Again, the victim was unarmed.

Time will tell if Tony Robinson will get the justice that has eluded Michael Brown, Eric
Garner, and so many others, but with “The Lawn Chair,” we can at least catch a glimpse of how
these events should end, and Shonda’s empathetic and passionate example ensures that Ferguson
and the injustice it represents stays a part of the cultural conversation. Sands believes it:
“It’s gonna raise awareness in a way that not a lot of other shows could.”

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