TV Mogul Shonda Rhimes Wants You To Know Why She Shouldn’t Be Called A ‘Trailblazer’

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Diversity is the word on everyone’s lips in Hollywood right now. If you have been paying attention to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has been well-covered by the media, you will know that for the second year in a row, no actors of color have been nominated for some of the major award categories including best actor, best actress and best director.

In response to the growing unrest and massive amount of attention by both industry insiders and audiences (if you missed Jada Pinkett-Smith’s epic rant about why people of color need to boycott the Oscars, click here) the film academy announced it will be changing the rules of its membership in order to ensure the same people aren’t voting every year.

This controversy has been so widely discussed, President Obama even weighed in with his opinion, saying it is indicative of a much wider problem in America today in terms of racial representation and everyone having their voice heard equally.

“As a whole, the industry should do what every other industry should do, which is to look for talent and provide opportunity to everybody. I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue of are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot? I think that when everybody’s story is told, then that makes for better art, that makes for better entertainment. It makes everybody feel part of one American family,” he said in a news interview.

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While this discussion is certainly extremely important, we can also point to people within the film and TV industry who ARE giving diverse voices, characters and stories a fair shot. One of the most outstanding example is TV producer and creator Shonda Rhimes who is widely credited with injecting some much needed diversity into the prime time TV line up with shows such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy, ‘Scandal’, and ‘How To Get Away With Murder’, all of which have won multiple awards.

We could even go as far as to say she is one of the main people responsible for TV’s winning streak in terms of being light years ahead of film when it comes to the representation of minorities, LGBT characters, female protagonists and basically anyone other than a white, straight, male-driven show.

At the recent Producers Guild of America Awards where she won the Norman Lear Achievement Award (the first female to do so, btw), she stood at the microphone and unashamedly told the audience why this award belonged to her, and why she is uncomfortable with the idea of being a “trailblazer”.

“I’m going to be totally honest with you: I completely deserve this. I have, against the odds, courageously pioneered the art of writing for people of color as if they were human beings. I’ve bravely gone around just casting parts for actors who were the best ones. I fearlessly faced down ABC when they completely agreed with me that Olivia Pope should be black. And I raised my sword heroically and then put it down again when [network head] Paul Lee never fought me about any of my storytelling choices,” she said. #Likeaboss.

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She has said it before numerous times, and she said it again at this platform, that diversity shouldn’t be thought of as something revolutionary. All we have to do is look around at the world and make an effort to see that reflected in the content that is created.

“It’s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is. Women are smart and strong. They are not sex toys or damsels in distress. People of color are not sassy or dangerous or wise. And believe me, people of color are never anybody’s sidekick in real life. I created the content that I wanted to see and I created what I know is normal,” she said.

In her speech she addressed other producers for not doing what she did, because when she started approaching networks with her ideas, they didn’t shoot her down. In other words, she feels producers are not asking for enough diversity like she did.

“When I came along, nobody was saying no. They were perfectly happy to say yes. You know what the problem was? I don’t think anyone else was asking them. I think it had been a very long time since anybody asked or even tried. Maybe content creators were afraid, maybe they had been hitting brick walls, maybe they had had their spirits broken. Maybe their privilege had made them oblivious,” she said.

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Given that she has become such an outspoken industry spokesperson about his issue, it only makes sense that she is going to be producing a new documentary series, alongside Norman Lear and rapper Common, called ‘America Divided‘, which will explore the issue of inequality in the country today.

Yet Shonda likes to reiterate that it makes her sad she is put on such a pedestal for her efforts to ensure new and interesting stories are told on TV. But if there is one thing writers, producers and creators can learn, it is about being authentic and allowing content to come forth without being constrained by the unspoken rules of what should and should not be shown on TV.

“Basically, you are just giving me an award for being me, in which case I totally deserve it. Really, I am honored to receive it. The respect of this award does mean the world. It just makes me a little bit sad. First of all, strong women and three-dimensional people of color is something Norman was doing 40-something years ago. So how come it has to be done all over again? What are we waiting for?” she said to the audience of industry heavy-weights.

It is an important wake-up call in this discussion about racial diversity on a larger scale in our society, and it is also a great call-to-action for filmmakers, writers and producers to not be afraid of being different or hearing “no”. Dunno about you guys, but we can’t wait for the #OscarsSoDiverse to be trending on social media!

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