Originally published on huffingtonpost.com
Shonda Rhimes proved long ago that she is a force to reckon with.
The growing influence she has had in television has not gone unrecognized and has resulted in a major boost for ABC’s Thursday night network ratings. However, more importantly, Rhimes — who is the mastermind behind shows like “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How To Get Away With Murder” — has increased onscreen representation of diverse roles that were once overlooked and in doing so, has raised further awareness on issues related to LGBT, women and people of color.
Because of her stellar contributions to the medium, Rhimes was honored with the Ally for Equality award at this year’s annual Human Rights Campaign Gala in Los Angeles in March.
After accepting the award, she delivered a searing speech and discussed why she decided to tell such a wide range of stories and how the direction she has taken with her shows is one that goes far beyond just diversifying television.
“I really hate the word ‘diversity,’ it suggests something…other. As if it is something…special. Or rare,” Rhimes said. “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: NORMALIZING. I’m normalizing TV.”
Rhimes – who also received a Diversity Award during last year’s Directors Guild of America Awards — went on to share why her approach to “normalizing” television speaks to her larger mission at hand: “Making TV look like the world looks.”
“Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal WAY more than 50% of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look NORMAL,” she said.
“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.”
Well said, Shonda, well said.
Here are some of the best bits from her speech.
On how writing helped her cope with being a nerdy and “painfully shy” little girl, who was “often the only black girl in my class”:
I created friends. I named them and wrote every detail about them. I gave them stories and homes and families. I wrote about their parties and their dates and their friendships and their lives, and they were so real to me that…
You see, Shondaland, the imaginary land of Shonda, has existed since I was 11 years old. I built it in my mind as a place to hold my stories. A safe place. A space for my characters to exist, a space for me to exist. Until I could get the hell out of being a teenager and could run out into the world and be myself. Less isolated, less marginalized, less invisible in the eyes of my peers. Until I could find my people in the real world.
On why “normalizing” TV is ultimately good for everyone:
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. Perhaps then they will not isolate them, marginalize them, erase them. Perhaps they will even come to recognize themselves in them. Perhaps they will even learn to love them.
On getting feedback from fans:
I get letters and tweets and people coming up to me on the street. Telling me so many incredible stories. The dad telling me about how something he saw on one of my shows gave him a way to understand his child when he came out. Or the teenagers — all the teenagers, man — who tell me they learned the language to talk to their parents about being gay or lesbian. The teenage girls who have found a community of peers and support online because of the Callie-Arizona relationship — Calzona. I get story after story.
There were times in my youth when writing those stories in Shondaland quite literally saved my life. And now I get kids telling me it quite literally saves theirs. That is beyond humbling. And every single time it comes down to one thing. You are not alone. Nobody should be alone. So I write.