Shonda Rhimes has a word she likes a lot more than ‘diversity’
Last weekend, at the Human Rights Campaign gala in Los Angeles, Shonda Rhimes received the Ally for Equality award for her (obviously) amazing body of work, from Scandal to Grey’s Anatomy to How to Get Away with Murder.The award was presented by Guillermo Diaz, who plays Huck on Scandal — and who perfectly explained why Rhimes was receiving the honor in the first place.
“She’s more deserving than anyone else I know,” he said, before presenting the award, “She casts blindly. She’s my boss and, from experience, she cast me — I’m a gay Latino — and she took a chance on me, giving me this role . . . that I automatically assumed was white and straight.”
What followed — what Rhimes had to say in her acceptance speech about feeling alone, about “diversity” on television, about finding your people in this world — was a sucker-punch right to the feels, and her honesty was as beautiful as it was empowering. (Because apparently we needed another reason to love Shonda Rhimes with every fiber of our collective being.)
“I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but I only ever write about one thing: being alone,” Rhimes said, “The fear of being alone, the desire to not be alone. . . The fundamental human need for one human being to hear another human being say to them: ‘You are not alone. You are seen. I am with you. You are not alone.’”
For many, her writing does just that. To be able to see yourself represented in such an easily accessible and well-loved medium as television is to feel acknowledged — to be reminded that you are not alone, regardless of how you might feel. Rhimes is known for her flawed and complex characters (hello, nearly everyone on Scandal, Grey’s, and HTGAWM), but she isn’t diversifying television: she’s doing something much bigger.
“I really hate the word ‘diversity,’” she said, “It suggests something. . . other. As if it is something. . . special. Or rare. Diversity! As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV.”
“I have a different word,” she continued, “Normalizing. I’m normalizing TV. I am making TV look like the world looks.”
We are all about this word swap, and as a woman of color, I am slow-clapping for her through the Internet. This isn’t the first time Rhimes has stood up for the so-called outliers (see: her speech about shattering the glass ceiling in Hollywood, and that time she flawlessly responded to a homophobic comment on Twitter), and it’s inspiring to see a woman in her position put her voice behind such an important cause.
“You should get to turn on the TV and see your tribe. And your tribe can be any kind of person, any one you identify with, anyone who feels like you, who feels like home, who feels like truth,” she continued.
“The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn’t look like them and love like them. Because, perhaps then, they will learn from them.”
“We are only on the edge of change. There is still so much more work to be done,” Rhimes concluded, “I’m going to accept this award as encouragement and not as accomplishment. I don’t think the job is finished yet.”
We couldn’t be more excited to get to work finishing it. Check out the rest of her mega-inspiring acceptance speech on Medium.