Curvy WCW: Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes is a television producer and writer who has created some of the biggest hits ever seen on TV. She is the creator, head writer, executive producer, and showrunner of the medical drama television series Grey’s Anatomy, its spin-off Private Practice, and the political thriller series Scandal. In May 2007, Rhimes was named one of Time magazine’s 100 People Who Help Shape The World and we certainly can’t disagree as her shows keep scoring major hits all around the world. As an executive producer she has produced hit show like the medical drama series Off the Map which aired on ABC for one season in 2011, the new world famous legal series How to Get Away with Murder, which debuted September 25, 2014, and The Catch which debuted March 24, this year.
Shonda Rhimes’s production company; Shondaland, is one of the few left in Hollywood that is yet to fail it’s fans. With Rhimes firmly in charge, her mind is constantly churning not just with the details of running a corporation that employs more than 550 people (actors, writers, directors, makeup artists, camera operators…) but also with each of her characters’ stories and how they intersect with the defining issues of our time: racism, sexism, sexuality, politics, war, and economic inequality among them. One major advantage she has over her competition is the fact that her shows are spectacularly appealing to a wide audience, they’re sexy, frank, funny, touching, dramatic, talky, action-packed, and, above all, character-driven. Simply put, Shondaland, and Rhimes’s ability to front television’s biggest shows starring complex, conflicted women, is downright revolutionary!
The mastermind sat down with ELLE Editor-in-Chief Robbie Myers for last year’s November issue and here’s what she had to say about some of the biggest moments from her shows;
ROBBIE MYERS: You’ve talked about what you do with your work and the idea of “normalizing”—of getting rid of the idea of the “other.”
SHONDA RHIMES: The entire world is skewed from the white male perspective. If you’re a woman, they have to say it’s a female-driven comedy. If it’s a comedy with Latinos in it, it’s a Latino comedy. “Normal” is white male, and I find that to be shocking and ridiculous.
RM: I’m so interested in what I’ll call the Michael Brown episode of Scandal, where Marcus says to Olivia, “Your black card’s not getting validated today.” I thought, Wow, I’ve never heard that on TV. But it does bring up the idea—and people will be talking about this a lot now that we’re in an election cycle—that there’s a monolithic black community. It’s the same thing for women—”the women’s vote,” as if….
SR: That episode was very interesting for us because Zahir McGhee, whose name is on the episode, [and] I basically wrote it together. He really did a good job with it, but [we] couldn’t be from more different worlds: He wanted Marcus to have attended a black college, and I didn’t want him to—I thought it meant something different. It was just a giant battle that we waged about every detail because [McGhee] was a young black man from Baltimore, and I grew up a lot like Olivia Pope. I was trying to explain to him, There is this weird belief from people on the outside and from people in black communities that there is only one way to be black. And I say it in the writers’ room all the time: My Black Is Not Your Black. What’s terrifying is that, just the same way we’ve all accepted that normal is white, everybody seems to buy into the idea that there’s only one way to be black or one way to be Hispanic. That’s as damaging as anything else.
RM: But in the end, there are good guys and bad guys, and we take sides.
SR: Sometimes there are the good guys, and sometimes there are the bad guys. When I wrote Abby’s feminist rant to her boyfriend Leo [on Scandal], about the fact that there is a difference between the way he is treated and she is treated, yeah, I was saying something. Because I was mad that women never get to be seen just for who they are.
RM: On one side, people say Scandal is melodrama, chick lit, while other people have said Scandal is the most progressive and transgressive show on TV. How do you feel about the idea that it’s “for women”?
SR: I was really pissed when we won a Peabody [Award, for excellence in broadcasting], and all the articles were like, “Nine amazing shows and one fluffy show won the Peabody.” It was as if we didn’t deserve to be there. I was like, Did you watch our show at all? Clearly you have never seen Scandal.
RM: The episode of Murder where Viola [Davis] takes off the wig and her makeup attracted a lot of commentary. She’s said that for her it’s about showing the messes. But I don’t think that there’s a woman who watched that show who didn’t identify with the two me’s.
SR: The woman you are in public—the two faces.
RM: Do you feel like one of those women is more authentic than the other?
SR: I don’t know. I feel like it was, to me, the most iconic feminist moment I’ve ever seen on television. She pitched it when we were trying to get her to do this series, and I thought, Wow. I feel like, for Viola, one is more real than the other. For [Annalise], it was the mask she presents to society, and the person she’s been trying to hide all this time.
RM: There was a lot written about when she took off the wig, and that there was yet another layer there for many black women.…
SR: We heard from a lot of women about that. Hair is so complex. Literally. There is an assumption about the hair that Olivia Pope had when she was lying on the beach last season, like: “Oh, why couldn’t she be as real?” I was like, She is. That’s how Kerry’s hair looks when she doesn’t blow-dry it! Every woman looks different. My black is not your black. Viola was very clear about this: I’m a dark-skinned woman with a dark-skinned woman’s hair, and that woman is never revealed on television—that kind of hair is never revealed. And I think that was a powerful moment. I’ve never seen that kind of woman get to exist on network television and get to be three-dimensional and have someone love her.
Click HERE to read the full interview.