Confession: I have never watched a Shonda Rhimes series. So of course I can’t directly speak to her talent as a writer, but what I can discuss are some of her frustrated comments to The Hollywood Reporter.
Speaking out after the New York Times “angry black woman” scandal (yeah, I used it), Rhimes has managed to remain pretty upbeat:
“Some really amazing articles were written that had the conversation that I’ve been trying to have for a very long time, which, coming from me, makes me sound like I’m just, ‘Rrrraw!”
But there is one thing that still bothers her, and the writer/producer tries to stop it when she can. Previewing an appearance announcement, Rhimes saw herself described as the “most powerful black female in Hollywood;” after nixing the descriptors, she sent the proof back.
“I find race and gender to be terribly important; they’re terribly important to who I am. But there’s something about the need for everybody else to spend time talking about it … that pisses me off.”
There are, of course, two sides to this coin. On the one hand, plenty of people simply want to promote women in the business. Statistically, the percentage of women writers, directors, producers, cinematographers etc. in television and film is fairly low (27%), and they comprise only 16% (behind the scenes) of those who worked on the 2013 top 250 grossing (domestic) films (the numbers for non-white women are even lower). That’s damned abysmal. When I read or hear about women who are directing films, or winning an award, or writing great television shows, I want to shout something about it from the rooftops. Cross-promotional support and all that… And so, I do often use the “female” descriptor, even as I realize it’s a shame to feel that need to define a writer/director by her gender. On the one hand, I really do understand Rhimes’ frustration; on the other, at this time, I feel it’s still important to note the gender disparity and basically flap my arms beneath my fellow women’s wings. In most instances, the intentions of using these modifiers are to note the significance in a positive way, but to constantly be referred to as such, has to be both frustrating and tiresome. By the time you get to the point where you’re writing number one television dramas, entrusted with an entire night’s line-up, you probably just want to be known for that fact; “black” and “female” serve as that constant reminder the barriers still exist. “They wouldn’t say that someone is ‘the most powerful white male showrunner in Hollywood,” Rhimes notes, and she’s exactly right.
In reading the THR profile and quick walk-through of the writer’s road to fame, I have to admit that my first urge is to cheer her as an accomplished woman who broke through anything that stood in her way. The fact of the matter is Shonda Rhimes should be championed simply for her accomplishments, for turning the lessons she learned along the way to her advantage, and building her own television empire — all of which have nothing to do with gender or race.