Kerry Washington made history as the first black woman to play the lead in a prime time drama in 38 years. Her character on ABC’s “Scandal,” Olivia Pope, has been criticized by some, but many laud Pope’s sense of independence, poise, professional success and even her vulnerability. As Kerry Washington prepares to play a decidedly different character, “Broomhilda” in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” she spoke with Elle Magazine about how both roles speak to preconceived notions about black femininity.

Here’s an excerpt:

On playing Olivia Pope: She’s phenomenally successful, able to control her world and makes things happen with clarity and force in her profession.

On Olivia’s style: I chose pale pastels and earth tones – no black or navy suits. She spends her days saying things people don’t want to hear. She has to balance that by wearing things that make people safe and comfortable.

On playing a slave in Django Unchained: Without Olivia as my day job, I don’t know if I would have been able to play Broomhilda. She has strength I knew nothing about. Tarantino is a director who’s not intimidated by blood and gore and violence and the darker side of the human soul.

On being chained in stocks and whipped: That day on set broke all our hearts. To find the strength in that circumstance was mind-bending.

On playing the damsel in distress: Look I can see how it’s not particularly feminist to play the princess in the tower, waiting to be saved. But as a black woman – we’ve never been afforded that luxury. There was no man coming to save you; it wasn’t part of the story. In some ways, this telling is a statement of empowerment.

We’ve seen black women occupy stereotypical roles such as the asexual Mammy or hypersexual vixen, but rarely do our actresses play the damsel in distress. Though the “princess in the tower” role isn’t prevalent for black actresses, is it empowering? What are your thoughts, Clutchettes?


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  • BriA

    I don’t think this new movie she is in portrays a damsel in distress at all….it just shows our history, the ugly history as Americans. Whenever the term damsel in distress comes up, I feel people think about princesses or fairytales. I’ll still support this film and RZA’s film to support the black actors but other then that I’m downloading lol

  • Rue

    I normally want to kick Tarantino in his “Tarantinos”, and this film doesn’t really change that at all…

  • While I do agree that the “damsel in distress” role would be a refreshing and uplifting moment for Black women in film, this Broomhilda role is not it. Black actresses have a hard time in Hollywood. Choices are limited and they have to sustain themselves. However, it irks me when they try to focus on the silver lining and come up with some elaborate justification for their roles. Let’s agree to call a spade a spade. Again, props to the actors, but Django is not going to do Black people as a whole any favors.

  • Greg

    Kerry Washington is a white man’s black woman. She meets the Caucasian ideal of beauty – fair skin, straight hair, pointy nose etc. Hollywood refuses to depict real African American women.

    • Alesha

      Pray tell, What is a real African-American woman? A neck rolling Sapphire perhaps?