A CHAIN OF EVENTS
ALL HER OWN
AS FAR AS CEILING BREAKING GOES
Shonda Rhimes took the stage and spoke about how she brings a feminist vibe to television. She said that her success with Scandal made the casting of How to Get Away with Murder a no-brainer for the network. She spoke directly to her daughter, telling her that her generation is the one that matters.
“Your slates are blank your paths are clear your stories are whatever you decide,” Rhimes said. “You are the builders of the 21st century.”
She said that once you start getting awards, you are more history than future. “Don’t look up here to us, put us in your rearview mirror,” she said. “Change the world. Then change it again.”
Before we do what Shonda says and put her in our rearview mirror, we have to learn from what she's done. So let's look as some of this Shot Caller's well known and lesser praised accomplishments all together at one time.
I. OWNS A NIGHT OF TELEVISION
As the slide show below says, Shonda's the first black person to own a night of television. Her shows take over ABC every Thursday Night.
- "Grey's Anatomy,"
- "How To Get Away With Murder."
- She's even got an off season thriller taking HTGAWM's place during the its off-season called "The Catch"
What the slideshow doesn't say is that Shonda's the second person of any color to own a night of television.The first one to do this was Norman Lear (maybe thirty or forty years ago?) And she's teaming up with Norman Lear for a documentary series called "America Divided" that will explore inequality in America. America Ferrera and Common will be a part of this project.
II. OPENED THE DOOR FOR
BLACK FEMALE LEADS ON TELEVISIONShonda proved that multiple black characters with major roles can help carry a television show, (Grey's Anatomy) Then she proved a single black actress can lead a television show (Scandal, HTGAWM).
When Kerry Washington stepped onto the little screen as "Olivia Pope" there hadn't been a black woman in the lead role since a sitcom named "Julia" starring Diahann Carroll in the 1960s. There was a 40 year gap between Kerry and Diahann...until Shonda got her legs under herself with a white female led show then followed up by creating Scandal for a black actress, soon followed by HTGAWM.
In my opinion, Shonda paved the way for most if not all of shows starring black women on prime time network television right now, and a couple of shows on cable stations too.
III. COLORISM CEILING BROKEN
Shonda even broke the colorism barrier with Viola Davis and Aja Naomi King on How To Get Away With Murder. Even Cicely Tyson is a part of that ceiling breaking.
I can't remember seeing two dark skinned actresses star in anything that wasn't a FUBU movie or television show, much less three.
Don't hear me saying that those FUBU movies are not important. I hope we always have them. I like black movies made by black people that accurately reflect a facet or three of black culture. But being able to capture 4 to 5 times more than 13% of the U.S. population makes--black people in the lead roles with white people in supporting roles --makes you Shonda a ceiling breaker and a gatekeeper, both.
IV) DIRECTORS AND PLAYWRIGHTS RISING
I don't see Ava DuVernay (Selma, Queen Sugar), Mara Brock Akil (Being Mary Jane), and Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead, Eclipsed) making all the strides they've made recently as a coincidence.
Shonda broke the ceiling for black women in entertainment, period. We, black women, were all but gone from main stream media except for Bill Cosby in the 1980s and a few Tyler Perry flicks. We were even mostly missing from ensemble cop and hospital shows over the last few decades.
...until Shonda's Grey's Anatomy.
V) PUTS BLACK ACTRESSES
AND BLACK FEMALE DIRECTORS TO WORK
She even put Debbie Allen, Regina King, and Ava DuVernay to work directing her shows. Marla Gibbs, Lynn Whitfield, Loretta Divine, and Diahann Carroll have been back on television a little more often thanks to Scandal and HTGAWM.
VI) MOTOWN SOUND BACK ON TV
And I hear a lot of black music from days gone by on Thursday nights too. So, old Motown greats are probably getting paid a little too.
VII) She puts her feminism (and Kerry's and Viola's) out front. She's made no bones about creating roles for women that were more 3 dimensional and human -like men's roles have always been. Shonda's protagonists want things, want people, are competitive, screw up, get angry, have sex, the are take action to take what they want and aren't always nice about it.
I think race being out in the open a lot more due to having a black president helped Shonda Rhimes and others navigate white Hollywood. It wasn't entirely her own talent that's gotten her so far. But it was her own talent that allowed her to keep on stepping despite the white Hollywood back lash that is #OscarsSoWhite. And I think she was able to do so because she's smarter than a lot of folks of any color inside or outside of Hollywood.
So like I said before, if black actors and black directors etc., had taken a page out of Shonda's book a while back, #OscarsSoWhite might not have come to pass.
HOW SHONDA RHIMES CHANGED TELEVISION
A SLIDE SHOW
SEE MORE AT THE LINK BELOW