Should it be such a big deal? Not necessarily. She’s the star of a huge hit show that’s only getting bigger, she’s had other covers this spring, she’s gorgeous…and it’s been six years since a black woman was on the cover of Vanity Fair, longer since a black woman was on the cover by herself. This is deplorable, but of course Washington isn’t there to break some sort of streak. She’s hot right now, she’s got broad appeal, she comes by the swimsuit somewhat honestly…

But this is not just about that, is it? 

There hasn’t been a shortage of press on Washington lately – Scandal season two begins in the UK tomorrow and that would usually lead to a certain amount of fatigue: same quotes, same message, boredom ensues. Instead, we’ve been treated to a steady, but not overwhelming, string of information that suggests Kerry Washington is Smart.

Not a bit quippy, or just clever with a joke – the woman is smart in a way that indicates she’s aware of the world around her and her place in it. Believe me, I am annoyed that this has to be highlighted… but it’s just so rare.

Washington speaks confidently and eruditely about her place in the world. She knows exactly what privileges she’s afforded by her beauty and relative affluence (girl went to Spence, where it turns out she did in fact cross paths with Paltrow) and the emphasis on her education - check this quote:

“My becoming a voting citizen was celebrated the way other people would celebrate a Sweet 16. My parents took me out to dinner, and we talked about who I was going to work for.” 

She balances it by being unafraid to talk about the ways in which she’s not a person of privilege – as a woman and as a person of colour. The fact that she can make these remarks without incident – that there is no publicist cleaning up after her – is rare.  

So I run into my own bias here: that it shouldn’t be so notable that she’s smart, that we should expect more from the people we hold up as celebrated, and the fact that she went to university shouldn’t have been such a mic-drop in that Hollywood Reporter roundtable. But it’s not what we expect of actresses. We expect that a pretty face excuses them from being well-informed or well-spoken, and that if they happen to play a character who’s intelligent, well, there are people to write words to make them sound that way.

But – it makes a difference. It makes the craziness of Olivia Pope’s machinations that much more interesting and believable because Washington can put some credence into Pope’s speeches. It makes her subsequent confessions that she has to “learn things to be her all the time” feel more important.

I’m not sure I agree that the crux of Olivia is that she’s female, that it colours everything else she does. But if I had a discussion with Washington about it, she’d be able to hold her own in the argument and possibly change my mind.

There are criticisms of this cover – that it’s photoshopped, that her hips are made too slim or too short or something. It’s not my favourite image of her ever, but unless you’re freeze-framing the swimming sequences on Scandal and comparing shot-for-shot I’m not totally sure I agree, the fact that all photos taken in water are weird notwithstanding.

Fangirl out.

(Lainey: Click here to read more from Kerry Washington in Vanity Fair. And, please, LET IT SELL.)