The Shonda Rhimes agenda: ‘Normalizing’ diversity with Women, LGBTQ and People of Color

The Shonda Rhimes agenda: ‘Normalizing’ diversity with Women, LGBTQ and People of Color

Originally published on huffingtonpost.com

Shonda Rhimes proved long ago that she is a force to reckon with.

The growing influence she has had in television has not gone unrecognized and has resulted in a major boost for ABC’s Thursday night network ratings. However, more importantly, Rhimes — who is the mastermind behind shows like “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How To Get Away With Murder” — has increased onscreen representation of diverse roles that were once overlooked and in doing so, has raised further awareness on issues related to LGBT, women and people of color.

Because of her stellar contributions to the medium, Rhimes was honored with the Ally for Equality award at this year’s annual Human Rights Campaign Gala in Los Angeles in March.

After accepting the award, she delivered a searing speech and discussed why she decided to tell such a wide range of stories and how the direction she has taken with her shows is one that goes far beyond just diversifying television.

“I really hate the word ‘diversity,’ it suggests something…other. As if it is something…special. Or rare,” Rhimes said. “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.”

Rhimes – who also received a Diversity Award during last year’s Directors Guild of America Awards — went on to share why her approach to “normalizing” television speaks to her larger mission at hand: “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,” she said.

“The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. 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.”

Well said, Shonda, well said.

Here are some of the best bits from her speech.

On how writing helped her cope with being a nerdy and “painfully shy” little girl, who was “often the only black girl in my class”:

I created friends. I named them and wrote every detail about them. I gave them stories and homes and families. I wrote about their parties and their dates and their friendships and their lives, and they were so real to me that…

You see, Shondaland, the imaginary land of Shonda, has existed since I was 11 years old. I built it in my mind as a place to hold my stories. A safe place. A space for my characters to exist, a space for me to exist. Until I could get the hell out of being a teenager and could run out into the world and be myself. Less isolated, less marginalized, less invisible in the eyes of my peers. Until I could find my people in the real world.

On why “normalizing” TV is ultimately good for everyone:

The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. 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.

On getting feedback from fans:

I get letters and tweets and people coming up to me on the street. Telling me so many incredible stories. The dad telling me about how something he saw on one of my shows gave him a way to understand his child when he came out. Or the teenagers — all the teenagers, man — who tell me they learned the language to talk to their parents about being gay or lesbian. The teenage girls who have found a community of peers and support online because of the Callie-Arizona relationship — Calzona. I get story after story.

There were times in my youth when writing those stories in Shondaland quite literally saved my life. And now I get kids telling me it quite literally saves theirs. That is beyond humbling. And every single time it comes down to one thing. You are not alone. Nobody should be alone. So I write.

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24 Comments

  1. pete
    November 11, 07:49 Reply

    “Normalizing” sounds apt

  2. Max
    November 11, 07:50 Reply

    Well said Shonda ????

  3. Sinnex
    November 11, 07:54 Reply

    You gave me Grey’s Anatomy, I would forever be grateful.

  4. Dennis Macaulay
    November 11, 07:59 Reply

    For people that say that “the show is too gay for kids”….

    Read and receive brain!

  5. Chizzie
    November 11, 10:12 Reply

    Normalizing, I see ok. You know what I said about minority race directors casting by affirmative action? Shonda just proved my point. Plus there’s absolutely nothing “normal about whats showed on TV. Its TV, its supposed to entertain, its not supposed to be completely accurate or a United colours ad.

    This is just another shitty miss world type answer and an attempt to be politically correct and post modern.

    • Dominic
      November 11, 13:30 Reply

      What exactly is your point? That gay and other ‘minorities’ should always be sideline on television because in real life they really are invisible and contributes nothing to the society??

    • Marc Francis of Chelsea
      November 11, 14:45 Reply

      As always, ignorance personified rears his clueless head. Are all TV shows about aliens? Or people not from this world? Why should a gay/trans person or a black/Chinese/latino person not be able to turn on their TV and see a show that they can personally relate to? How can you have an issue with her using her medium to normalise minority characters? You are black and gay. Do you want to be seen as an out of this world freak for the rest of your life?

      “Casting by affirmative action”…other than Shonda Rhimes’ shows, name two other primetime TV shows (not created by black directors) that have a black male or female lead? Name shows that have at least 5 minorities as high level supporting characters. Shonda is not attempting to be “politically correct and post modern.” She is both!

      • Chizzie
        November 11, 18:38 Reply

        Oh here we go again, the fat boy is upset with what I wrote. Well thats good, I don’t ever want to see eye to eye with a fat person

        • Marc Francis of Chelsea
          November 11, 20:53 Reply

          Lol @ fat boy.

          From all indications, you’re one of those losers who clings to online fame because in real life, you’re nothing. No one knows about your shitty life so you can come online to “big up” yourself by putting everyone down. Darling, after insulting everyone on this site, you’ll log off and still be a loser.

          Tragic really.

          • Chizzie
            November 11, 21:11 Reply

            Oh wawuu. Thats the irony of the year,a fat person calling someone else a loser.

            When all is said and done, you are still fat. And in the technical sense a walking coffin, seeing as you have a high tendency to be diabetic, have heart disease, a stroke, or erectile dysfunction…

            I’ll advice you stop getting yourself so worked up over my comments, as your clogged arteries are already strained.

            Now waddle away, or whatever it is you fat ppl do

            • Marc Francis of Chelsea
              November 11, 22:07 Reply

              Lol more fat jokes. Your repertoire of jokes simply astounds (not). If I was fat, I would be just about a walking coffin as you my dear. You could be diagnosed with stage-4 cancer or get hit by a car tomorrow and be on your way to your shack in hell, and the fat person you so cleverly (not) insulted would attend your funeral and eat cup noodles with your family.

              I’m glad you at least acknowledge the fact that you are a loser and only say off-colour things to get the shock value attention your less than buoyant personality gets you in real life. Trust and believe I’m always happy to give you that attention because someone needs to remind you that you are shit. You are nothing and you are no one. No one likes you and saying mean things will change none of that. I’d advise you to change but that would be like trying to convert Lucifer to Christianity.

              Any more fat jokes? Serious dying (from clogged arteries) to hear them.

              • Liyel
                November 11, 22:30 Reply

                Clap back champion!!! ???

              • Chizzie
                November 11, 23:25 Reply

                Riggghhht . Don’t worry,one of these days you’ll finally be able to find your penis.

                • Marc Francis of Chelsea
                  November 11, 23:56 Reply

                  Bunny even if I ballooned to 300lbs, my penis would still be too big to miss. I hope you find a soul outside this soulless online persona you’ve created for yourself.

    • Keredim
      November 11, 14:47 Reply

      Nna I tire for you o!

      Have you met Katie Hopkins? Google her. You both will make good friends ???

      • Chizzie
        November 11, 18:44 Reply

        After googling, I actually agree

        • Keredim
          November 11, 19:20 Reply

          Unfortunately, her xenophobia, homophobia and racism, would prevent any interaction with you ???

          • Chizzie
            November 11, 19:34 Reply

            Yes unfortunately, so guess i’ll just have to settle with Raven Simone

  6. Delle
    November 11, 10:18 Reply

    Ooooo the shade of it all! *in the voice of Latrice Royale*

    Amazing how Pink would post a sinking show yesterday and clear the haze with this post? Take that Lee Daniels!
    For the records, Shonda is my Icon of the Year!

  7. Sam La' smithereens
    November 11, 10:50 Reply

    I love Shonda. She is god and bae.

    And the part about her having this dream from 11years makes me love her even more. Unlike those white people that will say, “I’ve wanted to be a presenter/ballet dancer/actress/irritant from the age to 2” na true. Na so pikin take precocious reach?

  8. Liyel
    November 11, 22:33 Reply

    All I know is that liv & fitz should not break up again!

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