Creator of ABC’s hit drama “Scandal”, Shonda Rhimes is finally addressing the criticism hurled at her when a triggering sexual assault scene appeared in Episode 307: “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie.”
On Twitter, Shonda and her writers were instantaneously met with backlash from thousands of “Scandal” fans who believed the rape was nothing more than a plot device orchestrated to make First Lady Mellie a more likeable character. Other viewers bemoaned the scene because they believed it should have been handled with more care (e.g. a trigger warning).
There’s no sense in rehashing the entire flashback scene, but here’s the quick and dirty of it: during the earlier years of her marriage to Fitz (Tony Goldwyn), Mellie (Bellamy Young) was raped by her alcoholic father-in-law Jerry (Barry Bostwick). Following the rape, Mellie walks into her and Fitz’s bedroom to shower, and unaware that his wife had just been sexually assaulted by his father, Fitz pressures Mellie into having sex. The end.
Weeks since the episode’s airing, online discussion about the scene has somewhat quieted down and now, for the first time, Shonda is addressing her reasoning behind including the scene. In a recent interview with Vulture, Shonda adamantly denies that the sexual assault was a ploy; in fact, she claims she was “really confused” by the audience’s repulsion to it.
Here’s what Shonda had to say:
“It was about following the character backwards. I was sort of thinking, “Who is Mellie at heart? How did she get this way? How did she get from the sweet girl who married this man to the woman she is? What could have happened to her along the way? What are the small betrayals and the big betrayals that she would have had to suffer, and commit, to get where she is?” It felt like a very true moment if you think about everything Fitz has ever said about his father, everything that’s ever happened in their relationship, the idea that Mellie has these character traits that make her feel very protective but also determined to stay with him because of what she’s given up. It felt like true character to me, so it was really about that. And then, yeah, people got really, really upset; that was really interesting to me. I felt really confused and disturbed that people thought we were doing it to make people like Mellie.”
For me, I was absolutely unsuspecting of the scene, but I didn’t think it was a ploy to get me to like Mellie (besides, I don’t dislike her character). However, I totally agree with the folks saying ABC should’ve offered viewers an explicit advisory warning prior to the episode’s airing—either online or on screen before the scene appeared, as viewing a rape on television can be triggering, if not re-traumatizing for some sexual assault survivors. Nevertheless, I have and will continue to watch the show.
What about you?
PS: To grasp full understanding on the significance of trigger warnings, I recommend this post to you.