Shonda Rhimes Isn’t Diversifying TV, She’s Normalizing It.

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In a recent speech at a Human Rights Campaign gala in Los Angeles to accept the Ally for Equality Award, Shonda Rhimes once again has proved why there is no one like her in TV land right now, and why she is a force to be reckoned with and not just a passing trend.

Speaking of “land”, she started out her speech by explaining where her production company, Shondaland, got its name. When she was a kid in school and didn’t have friends and felt alone due to often being the only black girl in class, she would write to pass the time. Shondaland came about because she would create families and characters in her stories which became a safe place for her to exist.

She wrote stories to feel “less isolated, less marginalized, less invisible in the eyes of my peers.”

Cut to modern day, and Shonda has been credited with single-handedly changing the visual landscape of TV by purposely creating characters that are mixed race, gender, sexuality and socio-economic backgrounds. From ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to ‘Scandal’, Shonda says she gets letters from people who thank her for making them feel less alone by what she is creating on-screen.

It is one of the driving forces behind what she does, to allow people not to feel alone, because that is how she felt as a little girl before she started writing.

“I don’t know if anyone has noticed but I only ever write about one thing: being alone. The fear of being alone, the desire to not be alone, the attempts we make to find our person, to keep our person, to convince our person to not leave us alone, the joy of being with our person and thus no longer alone, the devastation of being left alone. The need to hear the words: You are not alone. The fundamental human need for one human being to hear another human being say to them: ‘You are not alone. You are seen. I am with you. You are not alone’.”

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With that being the foundation of her creativity and stories, diversity is the aspect that drives it forward and allows more and more people to identify with her shows. But diversity is a word that doesn’t sit right with Shonda, and here’s why:

“I get asked a lot by reporters and tweeters why I am so invested in ‘diversity’ on television. ‘Why is it so important to have diversity on TV?’ they say. ‘Why is it so challenging to have diversity?’ I really hate the word ‘diversity’. It suggests something…other. As if it is something…special. Or rare. Diversity! As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV. I have a different word: NORMALIZING. I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal WAY more than 50% of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look NORMAL.”

Preach it sister!

Her goal, she says is that everyone should be able to turn on the TV and find themselves, find “their tribe”.

“And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn’t look like them and love like them. Because, perhaps then, they will learn from them. Perhaps then, they will not isolate them. Marginalize them. Erase them. Perhaps they will even come to recognize themselves in them. Perhaps they will even learn to love them,” she said.

“I think that when you turn on the television and you see love, from anyone, with anyone, to anyone — real love  — a service has been done for you. Your heart has somehow been expanded, your mind has somehow grown. Your soul has been opened a little more. You’ve experienced something.”

She went on to talk about how in the writers room she stresses the importance of visuals, how they shape the world for us and teach us what the world looks like. A diverse world as something normal on screen is something that should’ve been done a long time ago, but it only makes sense that a black woman who felt alone and marginalized as a young girl has the impetus to actually strive for something that she can identify with herself.

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“Nobody should be alone” she emphasizes time and time again. We are on the precipice of change, but Shonda said she was accepting the award as an encouragement, not an accomplishment, because there is much work to be done.

“I don’t think the job is finished yet…there are so many minds and laws that still need to be changed.”

Her speech comes full circle when Shonda points out that she may no longer be the awkward, shy, marginalized 11 year old girl any more and her childhood “Shondaland” characters are now iconic men and women on television screens around the world, but then she has a major mic drop moment when she says: “I am still often the only black girl in my class. Look around you.”

So although she hates the word diversity, where we are at right now it is unfortunately the only concept that society can understand when we say different races, genders, and sexualities. The “other” needs to become the “norm”.

A video we recently saw that perfectly explains Shonda’s point about diversity is New Orleans-based spoken word performer Sha’Condria Sibley. She drops some truth bombs about how black girls with certain types of names are assigned the “ghetto names” moniker which automatically puts them in a particular category in society.

Sha’Condria’s poem “To All the Little Black Girls With Big Names.”, which was dedicated to young actress Quvenzhane’ Wallis, urges women with “names too hard to pronounce” that the fault isn’t theirs when people can’t say it them correctly.

That we live in a world where what’s easy and comfortable has become the norm, rather than stepping outside the boundaries of the “acceptable” to make the marginalized and stereotyped actually feel accepted. And less alone. There is a lot of synergy in the video below and Shonda’s speech.

Thank you to all the men and women all over the world who are going beyond themselves and pushing the boundaries so that even one person doesn’t feel alone or “other” in any way.

6 Comments

  1. Personally, I was taught to think of myself as an American first. So, when I do turn on the television- I always someone who is like me. I always see another American. Gender, sex, gender identity, religion, race, etc none of that matters, we are all citizens. That is how I normalize it.

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