When, at the Producer Guild Awards, Shonda Rhimes accepted the Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television, she took ownership of her success in a way we scarcely see. “I’m going to be totally honest with you,” Rhimes told the audience, “I completely deserve this.”
As she delivered her acceptance speech on Saturday night, Rhimes highlighted her efforts to create opportunities for actors of color — to write roles for them in particular. Via Vulture:
“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 Paul Lee never fought me about any of my storytelling choices.”
As Vulture notes, “the delivery of her speech may have been tongue-in-cheek” but Rhimes, “the solo female recipient of the award,” had no reason to cloak her words in modesty and “self-deprecation.”
At the same time, Rhimes insisted that the effect of her work has not been to create a new world on television, but merely to better represent the one in which we live:
“There was no blazing and no trails...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.”
And as she also reminds the audience, it is disturbing and deeply unfortunate that we should, in 2016, still see diversity on television as a novelty:
“I created the content that I wanted to see and I created what I know is normal. So basically, you are 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 [Lear] was doing 40 something years ago. So how come it has to be done all over again? What are we waiting for? I mean, I know this is a room full of producers, so probably you’re waiting for money.”
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