Shonda Rhimes on TV’s Lack of Diversity: ‘I Think It’s Sad and Weird’

The most powerful woman in television has a lot to say. And she's so on point.

By Jamilah King May 09, 2013

Everybody’s favorite ABC drama, "Scandal", is the subject of a must-read piece in the New York Times. In it, the show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, talks about how she deals with being one of the most powerful writers in television. "What was great for me about ‘Scandal’ was I had earned a lot of political capital with the network," Rhimes told me Willa Paskin at the Times. "I had done ‘Grey’s,’ I had done ‘Private Practice.’ What were they going to do, fire me? I wasn’t worried about what anybody else thought. This one was for me."

But, importantly, Rhimes also discusses the fact that she, a black woman, casts some of the most racially diverse shows on television. Racial diversity isn’t usually television’s strong suit.

From the Times:

Rhimes refuses to make an issue of her casting. "I think it’s sad, and weird, and strange that it’s still a thing," she told me over the phone a few months ago. "It’s 2013. Somebody else needs to get their act together. And, oh, by the way, it works. Ratings-wise, it works." In addition to its general success, "Scandal" is also rated No. 1 on network TV among African-American viewers.

While race on Rhimes’s shows is omnipresent, it is not often discussed explicitly. This has led to a second-order critique of her shows: that they are colorblind, diverse in a superficial way, with the characters’ races rarely informing their choices or conversations. Rhimes, obviously, disagrees. "When people who aren’t of color create a show and they have one character of color on their show, that character spends all their time talking about the world as ‘I’m a black man blah, blah, blah,’ " she says. "That’s not how the world works. I’m a black woman every day, and I’m not confused about that. I’m not worried about that. I don’t need to have a discussion with you about how I feel as a black woman, because I don’t feel disempowered as a black woman."

In November, released an infographic that showed just how white the Fall 2012 TV line up was. It wasn’t pretty.