Working on Limitations: Vermont Is For Lovers, Too.

by Yuleisy Michel Audain

I used to watch Scandal.

Like a lot.

I remember watching the first episode of this show and feeling this thrill that I never experienced before, the interest that I had taken to this show not only had to do that there was a woman with the same pigment on the screen that had so much power, but also that the woman who was writing these episodes where as well of the same pigment of my skin.

One of the most, if not groundbreaking shows that are airing right now, the first word that anyone would say is Scandal. Written by a goddess called Shonda Rhimes, she developed a political driven show called Scandal where the show runs to explains the everyday lives of the people who deal with the political involvement of our country, i.e. the President of the United States.

The most important character in this series is Ms. Olivia Pope. Played by the goddess Kerry Washington, where everyday showed not only the power that she has over the development of decisions of who will become president, and also on the involvement of great decisions that not only affect herself, but the country overall. Oh and also she loves the president and he’s married but that’s another topic to talk about later…

One of the reasons why I am mentioning about this show and it’s importance of this blog is towards the episode Vermont is for Lovers, Too. where Ava DuVernay directed the episode in the recurrence of how the show and story where developing. In this instance and for a long time, the pairing of all important figures that developed such an episode where lead by women of color. We have first the goddess of Shonda Rhimes developing the words, goddess of Kerry Washington playing Ms. Pope and Goddess DuVernay Directing the movement and flow of how the actors explain one of the most important episodes in the third season of this show with such magnitude.

Vermont is for Lovers, Too combined the stressful distrust Olivia Pope has with her family, and her awareness of her mother, after twenty years of disappearance that she might actually be alive. In a place where secrets and the truth are always on a challenge, Pope’s involvement within her personal life and her professional life clashes sometimes to her advantage and sometimes to her disadvantage, and that’s what makes this show so damn good.

Duvernay’s expression towards her involvement was clear from the beginning. DuVernay explains in an interview with the Urban Daily titled Ava DuVernay On Directing “Scandal” And The Universality of Black Film. She talks about her involvement with show stating that “ I’m usually creating my own worlds – writing the story, hiring the crew, designing the look, casting based on my preferences and needs, selecting everything from wardrobe to production design to music.  So my goal was the serve Shonda’s vision. That was my singular focus. To make her happy. It was fascinating being in another creative space from the mind of another Black woman and working within that.”

Duvernay also explains that “…This isn’t an Ava project.  It’s Shonda’s so it needs to be Shonda-esque not Ava-esque. For me honestly, the success will be if you watch it and it looks like “Scandal” and not like my stuff!  That was my job. To make an episode of “Scandal,” not to insert my own way too much.” Her involvement within her limitations gave her enough direction to use the characters and the setting that she has to propose an engaging image to audiences.  

In every single interview, example that DuVernay speaks about her involvement with Scandal, she expresses her cautious yet developed vision to how the story develops. In my directing class, my professor explained that 75 percent of the battle when it comes to directing has to come with casting/direction of actors. When this happens, and with proper communication and development of the blueprint of the text, that’s where the magic happens.  Although she directed this only episode, she came in, did what was to do, slayed through the whole thing, blew kisses and left the building.  

When all of these fierce components, with the will of all of these goddesses that is how we got this great episode happening. The support and the opportunity given in such limitations exploded towards the representation we so deserve. Writer Kunbi Tinuoye from thegrio, explained beautifully in her review on this episode that “ When I look at behind-the-scenes photos of her directing and then I watch the episode tonight, I see a reflection of the possibility for myself to do great things and there’s no longer an excuse not to go and create great shows and movies” It’s reading these words empower me to also keep going where I don’t think I have nothing going right for me.

In this episode, we don’t see much of Ava’s view towards how it should be, but she uses the same look that we have been given for the other seasons and adds her input towards her visual engagement with her actors. It is impressive where she defends her work to be engaging to the point that she distinguishes herself to be part of the group, and for that she also stands out in her own auteurist ways.  Her limitations is what ultimately makes her unique. The difference of this show to any other political dramas out there, is because it taps to the concept that yes, women of color could hold such high positions in such a white-male dominated circus that it is the white house. Popular political shows always show very few interactions with people of color, especially women of color, and when we get that, we just simply can’t get enough.

I remember the day that I met the ‘real’ Olivia Pope, Ms. Judy Smith. She met with me after talking on a panel on her involvement in Washington and her image as how it has changed after being the source of information on political affairs in her life.  We had a brief conversation as she had another appointment where she had to run to, but I asked her about the importance of figures like her to dominate such a white male driven job. She explained to me that it is never easy, but she said “with the right pair of heels, everything will be alright”.

Shonda uses her right pair of shoes each time she uses different actors and actresses to come and play these characters that present the modern day idea of what Washington is today. Rhimes used her best pair of heels when she used DuVernay’s directorial stand. Shows like the West Wing and 24 present political environments, but Scandal in it’s own right presents this new outlook of how politic works, through the eyes of a woman of color, and the success of such is still on the rise today.