While Shonda Rhimes may be best known as the showrunner who discovered “Kerry Washington” plus “red wine” equals “must tweet-TV,” she’s also been long respected for her commitment to diverse casting. Until the more recent efforts by Fox to promote diversity, Rhimes’ shows—including Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and Private Practice—were some of the only spaces on network TV that presented a wide array of men and women of color in highly skilled jobs and positions of power, from Chief of Surgery to top political crisis manager. Race is a part of her characters’ identities, but it's far from their sole defining factor.
Rhimes and Scandal executive producer Betsy Beers were honored for their efforts with the Diversity Award at this weekend’s Directors Guild of America Awards, and Rhimes used her acceptance speech to discuss what such an award means about American television—as well as explain why she’s a little “pissed off” there’s still a need for it. Entertainment Weekly has more quotes from the speech in which Rhimes explained, “Betsy and I are being applauded and given an award for something we should all be doing. There shouldn’t need to be an award!” She went on to cite a lack of access as the root cause for the whitewashing of television, saying, “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.”
Rhimes highlighted her commitment to creating fictional worlds that are as diverse as the one she lives in, saying she believes the myriad of voices she presents onscreen has helped her work captivate the public. And given that Grey’s Anatomy is set to enter its 11th seasonm and Scandal is currently one of the most talked-about shows on TV, she has the success to back up that claim.
At the end of her speech, Rhimes acknowledged the complexity of trying to fix television's lack of diversity: “We’re also proud that the DGA recognizes a problem and are trying to fix it," she said. "The DGA, by the way, is the only Guild giving out this type of award in an attempt to draw attention to the problem, which I think is kind of badass.” It must be said that Rhimes, the sole prominent black female showrunner in television, is also something of a badass. She and Beers left the stage to a standing ovation.