Shonda Rhimes has come into prominence as a well-versed television writer, director, and producer. Responsible for bringing the world shows that include Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal, Rhimes has shown a commitment to plugging diverse characters into over the top plot lines. Her shows are all dramatic and addicting; Scandal has garnered a committed Twitter following and a legion of fans who self-identify as “Gladiators”. Both Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy— having completed their 3rd and 10th seasons, respectively- enjoy solid ratings and resonate with diverse audiences.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that Rhimes and her production partner Betsy Beers were awarded the “Diversity Trophy” at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards.
What did come as a surprise is what happened when they took the stage to accept the award.
Rhimes and Beers took the opportunity to lambaste their colleagues in the industry for the very existence of the award itself noting that diversity wasn’t an exercise that should be awarded but rather practiced.
When I heard I was getting an award I was really, truly, profoundly honored. I began to get calls from Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, etc., and I was asked to comment on the award. Asked how good I felt about the award. Asked if it made me feel like I was doing the right thing. Asked if it had been a struggle making diversity happen on my cast and crews. While I’m still really and truly profoundly honored to receive this award, but I was also a little pissed off. So was Betsy. So over many, many, many bottles of wine we discussed this. Betsy and I are being applauded and given an award for something that we should all be doing. There shouldn’t need to be an award!
Rhimes emphasized that while she was honored, she was pissed; and in speaking her truth she received the support of the audience who gave her a standing ovation.
She didn’t get on stage to complain about a nonexistent problem, rather she spoke to the casual parameters contributing to a reality in which diversity is noteworthy. Rhimes noted:
“It’s not because of a lack of talent. It’s because of a lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another. And I don’t believe that that happens out of any specific racism or sexism or prejudice. People hire their friends. They hire who they know. It’s comfortable. You want to be successful, you don’t want to take any chances, you don’t want to rock the boat by hiring people of color because, well, look at us,” she said. “Both Betsy and I like the world that we work in to look like the world that we live in. Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.”
Her success with Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal give her the credibility to get on stage and say what she did. In truth, these industries are profit driven. The sad reality is that as soon as a correlation between diversity and profit is made we’ll finally start to see an influx of programming in which the diversity of the characters mirrors the diversity we see in the real world.
Till then– Good for Shonda and Betsy for speaking their minds.
Photo by Greg Hernandez, used under Creative Commons license