It’s premiere season, so let’s talk about TV. And by TV, I mean TV writers. And by TV writers, I’m talking about Shonda Rhimes. The woman behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, but also Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (didn’t know that did you?). Shonda once told Oprah that directors own movies, but television is all about the writers. I thank her for that because it gives me a good excuse to blog about Scandal. 🙂
In all seriousness, I actually really admire Shonda Rhimes, and have followed her career ever since I found out that a black, Ivy Leaguer (Dartmouth undergrad, UCLA grad) was behind Grey’s. She has been commended for doing “color blind” castings, meaning that actors of all races try out for her roles and the best person wins (yes, the fact that idea is so revolutionary is sort of crazy, but whatevs). In fact, Jennifer Weiner specifically mentioned Shonda to me, when I asked her about the issue at her book signing a couple of months ago. Still, it has been noted that, despite the diversity of Shonda’s shows, race almost never emerges as an issue in the plot lines.
I am fascinated by this issue because I think about how race will play out in my future novel all the time. I want it to have a black protagonist, but I do NOT want to be pigeon holed. My audience will be women–all of them! But we’re talking about Shonda. On the one hand, her telling the same romance stories just with minority characters—and by that I mean, brilliantly breaking your heart just with minority characters (see Scandal episode 6)—is not insignificant. The depiction of the relationships, professional hurdles, etc. of a diverse group of people is simply more representative of the world that people in Seattle, D.C., New York, LA live in. In case I’m not being clear—it just does not make sense to anyone (black or white) to see a show take place in New York without any minorities! Or, as my Hawaiian friend (not Obama) says—in Hawaii without any Hawaiians! It’s simply inaccurate. A fallacy. And annoying. So, when Shonda shows a workplace with non-white people, non-straight people, non-young people, it’s just more like the world most of us live in, whether she talks about identity issues or not. In my opinion, that makes the show better.
So now the question is, since Shonda (left) is in the powerful position of being able to reach the masses of pop culture, does she have a responsibility to draw attention to various racial/identity issues? I can’t give a yes or no answer to this one. All I can say is this: minorities bring a unique perspective to whatever they do, which particularly comes through in art. If Shonda is a minority who is aware of racial issues, understands the role race plays out in her industry, and embraces blackness as a part of her identity (which I believe she does), bringing that perspective to her writing (whether she explicitly talks about race or not) is valuable and helpful. One of the reasons it occurred to her to have the “color blind” casting, for example, is that she sees a diverse world, and notices the absence of diversity. That all said, after 8 or 9 seasons Grey’s, and now having a black lead in Scandal (my girl, Kerry Washington), I think it’s getting a bit conspicuous NOT talking about it. The workplace is so political, meaning professionals have to and do think about the role their minority status plays in their careers all the time. So, I think she should go for it. She’s a deft writer, she can do it in a way that coincides with the light, pop-culture feel of her shows. What do you think?