Scandal-ous Inspiration

I want to talk about Kerry Washington for a minute.

Going back to around 2006, 2007, when people used to inevitably ask the question (probably during icebreakers, I was participating in a lot of them in those days), “Who would you want to play you in a movie?”, Kerry Washington was my answer. She’s been quietly competent in films such as Save the Last DanceRay, Lakeview Terrace and The Last King of Scotland. I’ve really enjoyed her energy and intensity for several years, and was pleased to see her profile positively explode as Scandal gained steam as a program many people deem “not to be missed.” But the more I learned about her, the more I realized how much that success is appreciated and rooted for.

When Ms. Washington lost the Emmy on Sunday night to Homeland‘s Claire Danes, there was an uproar in Hollywood that I haven’t seen so forcefully since Viola Davis lost the Best Actress Oscar to Meryl Streep. But while Viola’s uproar was a more general one, heard from the fans of The Help (admittedly, myself included), Kerry’s was a more personal one. People who she had worked with closely, both currently and in the past, were mystified that she was not rewarded for her work. Kerry Washington is a fascinating case of being at the top of her game professionally, and (nearly) universally beloved personally.

Raised by a real estate agent and a professor in New York and George Washington educated, Kerry is whip-smart, a fact that shows in the meticulous research she does for her role as Washington fixer Olivia Pope on Scandal. But that fact is equally evident in the sense of humor she has about herself and her own work. When asked about her role as commencement speaker at George Washington this past spring, she brushes off the accolade, saying they could have found someone better than “the blind girl who falls in love with The Thing in Fantastic Four.” In truth, her unique combination of dedication to a craft and the levity to take success in stride is something that George Washington graduates should see as they embark on the dawn of their professional lives.

When Danes’ name was called on stage Sunday night, my first instinct was “Diahann Carroll is gonna cut someone.” Not half an hour before this moment, the legendary Carroll (the first African American female nominated for an Emmy in any category) gushed about Kerry, praising her grace, talent, and determination.

It’s worth noting that this word gush comes up a lot where she’s concerned. Any cursory Google search of Washington’s name features articles in which her costars don’t just refer to, or praise her, but “gush” about her. What this means is either the popular press needs a new thesaurus, or there’s something very special going on here. I digress.

I am admittedly hazarding a guess as to the outrage that Carroll felt at Kerry’s loss. Her coworkers, however, made their disappointment evident and public:

I could go on for many more Tweets to how many people were disappointed that she didn’t win, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. The message behind these tweets is a pretty clear one. I watch a lot of TV, and I do a lot of reading about it too. Frankly, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m yet to see a bad word about this young woman. She is professional and dedicated, appreciative and pleasant. From those who currently work with her, to those who are yet to work with her, down to her boss, she conducts herself in a way that makes those around her better. In a field (Hollywood) that famously (pun not intended, but surely recognized) suffers from a lack of people who are at once talented, hardworking, and genuinely kind. By all accounts, Kerry Washington is a diamond in the rough in this regard.

As Kerry and Diahann took to the stage, I posted the following Tweet:

Although we work in wildly different contexts, there’s undoubtedly a lot that I want to learn from Kerry. She works hard, is thoughtful in the direction of her career, and is kind to people she meets along the way. Her personal life belongs to her, but at the same time she is devoted strongly to her work and the people who make it matter. I want that from my career, and seeing her shine this weekend at the Emmys, including her grace in defeat (footage from the night showed few people clapping for Danes harder than her), served as an awesome reminder.

Not to mention, the ability to fearlessly wear white would be fantastic 🙂

Who are your unlikely inspirations? What situations have reaffirmed your appreciation of them and their lessons? Do you think I can pull off wearing more white?

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