Papa Pope the Terrible & How He Defies Black Male Stereotypes on TV

Papa-Pope
ABC Studios

So today is that day I have been waiting for since prior to Thanksgiving when the mid-season finale of Scandal aired. It has been a long wait and my Thursday nights have never been drier but a last Scandal returns. In honor of Scandal’s return I would like to talk about my favorite character on the show the devious Papa Pope. Now I know many people abhor this character (for reasons I will never comprehend) but Papa Pope is not just a simple television character but represents a direct challenge to racial stereotypes that exist on TV concerning black men. *insert collective what* Let me explain if we go back to the first film in America, Birth of a Nation, a black man is seen as a sexual brute who sought to defile the sanctity of a virginal white girl. Let’s forget that the actor playing said black man is a white man in black face, (I could analyze this imagery alone but racist propaganda is not worth my time right now) this character became one of the dominate images of black men and was used to legitimize lynchings in the twentieth century. After all, Emmett Till’s whistling at a white woman was seen as a manifestation of this sexual brute and as a result the 14 year old boy needed to be killed before he acted out his nigger[sic] impulses. At the same time we have the dancing sambo and zip coon  minstrel characters that made fun of African Americans by depicting them as ignorant, child like, and *insert patronizing and/or negative adjectives used to describe someone*. Let’s not forget how fried chicken and watermelon were constantly incorporated. Fast forward to post Black Power Movement, you have the angry black man emerge as someone who constantly talks about “the man” and who wants to upend the system that is oppressing him. This time period also bring blaxploitation with larger than life gun wielding heros (Shaft is an example). And most recently we have the thug gangsta anti-police drug dealer who fathers many kids out of wedlock. He is a menace to society on the streets with his crimes but also costs taxpayers money when he is locked up. Now let me say that Papa Pope isn’t the first foil to racial stereotypes about black men as we have many examples of black fatherhood on television that disprove the notion that black men aren’t there for their children but Papa Pope does push the representation of black men in a different direction than anything I’ve seen on TV.

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So when Papa Pope made his mysterious appearance in the second half of season 3 he immediately stood out to me because here was this black man who had Cyrus Beene the man who killed Amanda Tanner shaking in his boots. Then we find out at the end of the Season when Olivia is rushed into the black car that he was her father (Someone made the joke that we should have picked up on that because they were both powerful black people working in Washington and all black people know each other one way or another i.e Edision was Olivia’s ex). Then came the scene in the season premiere of Season 4 that made me fear Papa Pope: “Olivia you’re getting on that plane come hell of high-water and to be clear I am the hell and the the high-water.” *Hides under covers* Hell-or-High-Water

Furthermore, the man kept his terrorist wife locked up for years. Now Papa Pope is not be important for being scary, we have seen scary black men on TV before but he is important because he is quiet literally the most brilliant character on the show. So when Jake deposes Papa Pope with the help of the President, Papa Pope looked pitiful but little did we know that he had a master plan in motion that would just solidify him as the best TV villain in my book. Not only does Jake crack under the pressure of Command being unable to capture and stop Mama Pope, but Papa Pope plays his cards so well that that Olivia takes pity on him and wants to improve their relationship, Maya tries to kill him for shooting her lover, and even Fitz begins to trust him. Then comes the moment where he has secret service agent Tom kill Fitz’s son and make it look like it was Mama Pope so that Fitz would win the election instead of Sally and reinstate Papa Pope as Command of B613. Due to the craziness of the election Olivia finally takes up her father’s offer and flies off into the sun with Jake leaving the other gladiators to their own devices in D.C. Of course Harrison is the only one to connect the dots and stupidly confronts Papa Pope but Eli/Rowan now has his unadulterated power back and he easily offs Harrison without a second thought (at least that is what we are led to believe). This is when Papa Pope became something to be admired. He was no longer some old black man slinking in the shadows scheming but he was actually able to deliver and win when everyone thought he was out of the game. Papa Pope destroys all stereotypical notions that black men cannot be genius masterminds. He does this again in season 5 when he was aware that Tom might grow a conscience and made sure to set him up as the fall guy who would blame Jake Ballard for giving the order to murder the President’s son under Pope styled interrogation/intimidation methods (just brilliant). When everyone does catch on to him and decided to collectively put an end to him using dinners with Olivia as a cover, Papa Pope once again proved why he is the male chess master of the TV world (Jessica Pearson is the female version in my opinion) taking out the soldiers all while letting Olivia know that he was done with her. Just for good measure, he shows up in Olivia’s apartment with a gun, turns his back and leaves the fun on the table. Olivia takes the bait and attempts to shoot her father (Olivia you need to redeem yourself!! Patricide is never the answer!!) and with his own daughter wanting him dead he leaves her life and as a result Olivia is able to be kidnapped (That’s what you get girl).1120scandaleli

Now that I have provided all those examples of Papa Pope’s greatness it is important to put it back into context. Again many people do not like him I think because of the unpredictable element he brings to the show but I find that unpredictability refreshing. The idea that a black man is higher and more powerful than even the white President of the United States and
is able to tell him that “I am higher than your pay-grade” is empowering in a sense (I think that subconsciously it is probably this image of an all powerful black man that scares some white viewers and make them dislike Papa). Also as the examples show Papa Pope is always ahead of those who seek to destroy him even when it looks like he is on the run. I just hope that Shonda does not decide to kill him off because he does bring a different element to the show that feeds my inner conspiracy theorist. I would like to believe that his character isn’t real but who knows people like that never care about us small fries unless we are a threat to the Republic (Papa Pope reference). Kudos to Joe Morton for always delivering an amazing Papa Pope, I now channel Papa Pope for all my presentations!

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This guy is just so good at being bad!

Papa Pope Monologue Gifs via Buzzfeed

P.S.

If shows could transcend network boundaries I feel Papa Pope and Jessica Pearson would make a lovely and very interesting couple. One: they are both black, two: they are both chess masters and know how to manipulate other, and three: I would love to see how they would try to one up the other since they are very similar to one another.

This picture serves no major purpose but it is so hilarious! I would love to see Jessica and Papa Pope meet. They are within the same age group and we already know Jessica and Jeff won’t last once he finds out the real secret .

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