Kerry Washington speaks to students

Kerry Washington, star of the ABC hit television series Scandal, spoke at Wallis Annenberg Hall Monday evening on her career, upbringing and stance on political issues.

This session was primarily scheduled for students in JOUR 381: Entertainment, Business and Media in Today’s Society and JOUR 599: Special Topics.

Mary Murphy, senior lecturer at Annenberg and professor of the aforementioned classes, interviewed Washington. She started off by asking Washington what her ambitions and dreams were as a child.

“I didn’t think I would be an actor when I was young,” Washington said. “To be an actor you have to want to be famous and I was not one of those girls. I just wanted to make a living doing something that I wanted to do — physiology, teaching or communication — and study the role of performance and identity.”

Washington has starred in the movies Django Unchained and Ray, but is most well-known for her role as Olivia Pope on Scandal. In that series, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series-Drama. .”

Washington also touched on race relations, specifically in television and movies throughout the night.

“I never felt pressured to be extra good because there aren’t many other black women in the roles that I play,” Washington said. “We long for inclusivity or anything that closes that gap — it makes for great storytelling.”

The talk of race followed laughs and cheers as Washington’s debut in Saturday Night Live was projected onto the screen behind the stage as she played different famous black women, mocking the lack of black women on the cast of the show.

As Washington is involved with the political drama, Scandal, a discussion arose regarding how television shows like House of Cards and Scandal portray cynicism about government.

“In West Wing, for example, viewers needed a more idealized president because they were frustrated with the current one,” Washington said. “Currently, it is the other way around.”

Following the teaser trailer for season five of Scandal, the discussion was opened up to the rest of the audience.

One student asked if Washington makes decisions about work from a creative standpoint or from a popularity standpoint.

“I don’t pick a job because it is good for the people,” Washington said.  “It is because the job interests me.”

She made it clear that she does not let what other people think of her sway her sense of justice.

“My career is a test for me to not quiet my sense of justice for the sake of my career,” Washington said. “I stay true to myself by leaning into the people around me. The goal is not self-reliance but of community.”

Washington ended the discussion by explaining how and why she strives to balance her creativity with her education.

Megan Daly, a junior majoring in communication, said she respects Washington.

“I admire her as an actor and a business person and her ability with social media,” Daly said. “I thought she was candid and honest with all of us.”

Larkan Kelly, a freshman majoring in political science, said Washington and the characters she plays inspire her to help others.

“She’s my idol,” Kelly said. “She’s had a big influence on me pursuing political science because of her political advocacy for other people.”

One of the main takeaways of Washington’s speaking event has to do with the empowering nature of education, which she made many references to during the talk.

“My job is to reflect humanity because the less we know about human beings the less educated we are,” Washington said. “Being empowered to do things your own way is your greatest asset. If you don’t figure out what is unique about yourself and don’t stand courageously then we all lose out on your gift.”