Shonda Rhimes has electrified the television landscape with a series of rich, knockout dramas featuring diverse, fully realized people of color. In a world where the main difference between the actors getting roles on the silver screen comes down to opportunity, her groundbreaking storytelling is nothing less than inspirational. Her presence as a black female showrunner and owner of an Emmy award winning production company, Shondaland, has created careers for multiple actors of color. As a titan in the industry, she stands as an icon for black creatives everywhere.
Rhimes was born in Chicago, and her potentiality as a writer began to show itself early on in her childhood (Shonda Rhimes Biography). As the youngest of six children, Shonda took great joy in entertaining her family with all types of stories and tales (Shonda Rhimes Biography). When the time came, she would go on to study English and film studies at Dartmouth College before attending the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Here she studied screenwriting and earned her MFA (Shonda Rhimes Biography). After college she worked a series of odd jobs whilst honing her craft (Shonda Rhimes Biography). However, like many writers, the first script that she ever sold, “Human Seeking Same,” never came to any fruition (Shonda Rhimes Biography). Nevertheless, it did mark the beginning of what would be a successful career of writing stories with diverse casting.
Shonda Rhimes was the first woman to create three hit television series with over 100 episodes each (Master Class). Many people attribute this to her remarkable skill with creating three-dimensional female characters. However, Rhimes finds it puzzling when people ask her how she was capable of creating such strong female characters (Master Class). With an abundance of powerful women in the media today, the creator of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder sees no issue when looking for inspiration (Master Class).
Kerry Washington, the star of Scandal, told Oprah, “She knows the power of reflection and wields that power with grace and generosity” (Winfrey). Rhimes mirrors the sharp, witty women that inhabit the real world in her writing and, of course, she is one of those women. Rhimes has avoided the path that many writers before her had followed. She didn’t play it safe by writing stories where the women existed as props supporting male main characters or by writing people of color who were only confined to outdated or offensive side character tropes. While teaching her Master Class, she told aspiring writers to avoid attaching a race to their characters (Master Class). Her secret to ending up with one of the most diverse multiculturally casted shows on television was picking the best actor for the role regardless of race (Master Class). This simple act of inclusion automatically makes her stories more appealing. She went on to say, “I find race and gender to be terribly important; they’re terribly important to who I am” (Rose).
Shonda’s boldly vibrant stories will inspire young black women for generations to come. Her willingness to purposely break ground on new territory, commonly avoided by the television industry, helped her widen the window of possibility for the generation after her. Her astounding impact on television made her a household name, and her rise will forever be noted as a positive turning point in the film industry.
Winfrey, Oprah. “Shonda Rhimes: The World’s 100 Most Influential People.” Time, 18 Apr. 2013, time100.time.com/2013/04/18/time-100/slide/shonda-rhimes/. Accessed 22 July 2020.
Rose, Lacey. “Shonda Rhimes Opens Up About 'Angry Black Woman' Flap, Messy 'Grey's Anatomy' Chapter and the 'Scandal' Impact.” The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Oct. 2014, 9:00 am, www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/shonda-rhimes-opens-up-angry-738715.
“Shonda Rhimes Biography.” The Biography.com Website, A&E Television Networks, 23 Jan. 2018, www.biography.com/people/shonda-rhimes-21292767.
“Shonda Rhimes Teaches Writing for Television.” MasterClass, www.masterclass.com/classes/shonda-rhimes-teaches-writing-for-television?utm_source=Paid&utm_medium=AdWords&utm_term=Aq-Prospecting&utm_content=Search&utm_campaign=SR.
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