We need to talk about Shonda Rhimes
How tv shows can change the course of society through compelling storytelling.
I am a huge fan of Shonda’s work, she is a brilliant writer that was able to create compelling stories with complex characters that we all fall in love with — even though she is also the evil person that breaks our hearts and lead us to tears on a weekly basis as she kills those same characters in the most tragic ways you could ever imagine and when you recover from it and feels like “ok nothing could be worse than the last event”, she just proves you wrong with a major catastrophe that will break your heart in ways you never thought it would be possible (Hello Lexie, Sloan and Derek!). But that is not the reason I’m here.
For decades the movie/tv industry was led completely by men with major paychecks and whenever a woman would appear in this scenery it would mainly be to write “chick flicks” and be reminded of where she “belongs”, and it is safe to say that whenever a woman would be able to write, produce, direct or star a tv show/movie she would be a white woman, not an african american. So let us just be honest, just for being a black woman that is responsible for 3 major tv shows with a huge fan base worldwide, winning many awards and signing an astronomical contract with Netflix she is already changing the way of how things have being done for a long long while. And that is a great contribution to our society and yet not what I wanted to talk about…
The majority of people come home from an exhausting day of work and turn on their beloved tvs — or nowadays their computers or tablets, but you get what I’m saying — and they just sit there and let the shows entertain them without having to have deep thoughts about it, but once you are hooked those information get inside your brain anyway and later on you can think about what you have seen, you will discuss it with friends over lunch time or happy hour and if it is a successful show you will probably be seeing a lot of discussions online as well. Most of the tv shows we consume worldwide are american and that has a meaningful impact of how generations are being impacted and in spreading cultural aspects and a way of life, even if you never stopped to think about it, believe me, if you are a person that watches american movies and tv shows there are aspects of american culture in you no matter how you try to deny it, some will have more and some will have less. But my point is, tv shows are powerful and not a dumb entertainment as so many would think and I am a firm believer of using your power to good.
Hospital, court and politics are some of the favorite topics for tv shows for all us from over the years and they are exactly what Shonda talks about in her award winning shows. And those shows are what matters in here and we can start with a simple thing that we are all so used to see in the media: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder all have a woman as their leading character and for the last 2, not only they are women, but they are black women and yet none of those tv shows are considered chick flicks or blaxploitation, their genres are drama and maybe a thriller, but nothing more than that. They are just “regular” shows for “regular” people, and personally I think that is probably the reason of their success.
I do believe Shonda has done more for minorities than any other authors, directors and producers. You see there are some amazing shows and movies about minorities as Dear Black People, When We Rise, The Danish Girl, The L Word, Suffragette just to name a few, but let’s face it, if you are a sexist, racist and homophobic would turn your tv to any of these? I don’t think so. They will not appeal to you! And the chances are that even if you don’t consider yourself someone filled with prejudice, but you are not also someone that truly embraces civil rights and/or just wanna watch tv to relax instead of those “harsh shows” that are deep and talk about themes that “really doesn’t have anything to do with you” — as you are straight and/or men and/or white — you will probably not gonna choose one of those either. But, if you are not an extremist, at a certain point you have watched or watch on a regular basis some of Shonda’s shows. I will talk more about Grey’s Anatomy as it has being going on for much longer and has more characters in the main plot.
To begin with, the diversity of the show is amazing and I can’t recall any other shows that are so good in placing diversity like that and working their way into their stories like that one. It is so important for us to see black people in powerful positions, LGBT people raising families and going through their own issues for coming out and having the same issues when it comes to relationships as straight people, women being able to fulfill their dreams and achieve career goals and men being presented as real human beings instead of super heroes or villains. You know the more you see something, the more usual it becomes and when something doesn’t feel odd or unusual anymore we end up with less prejudice.
Over the years Shonda have talked about so many topics such as racism, sexism, abortion, bissexuality, transgenders, human rights, euthanasia, death role and so much more. And even though the main character is a blond woman, Shonda managed to give the same amount of importance to all other characters in the show. Let us just go through a few…
Yang was one of the most beloved characters of the show and for me it is just so symbolic that she was just one of the few main stars that were not brutally murdered in order to leave the show. Instead of that, she rose in her career and pursuit her dreams. She was a strong female character that knew what she wanted and was not gonna let go of who she was for any man and that is such an important role model for young girls. She didn’t hate men, in fact when in love she would try her best to make it work and even compromise to make her relationship move forward, but she wouldn’t kill her life goals or her spirit in order to do that. Not only she was committed in being the best in her field, but she was also a brilliant mind by nature proving that women can be just as intelligent as men. Also, even though she was not the sentimental kind of friend, she was very sensitive to others and would show her love to her friends in different ways, which happened in several different occasions as she was the one saving Derek in the day of the shooting, as she was medicating everyone during the plane crash and by giving her share of the hospital to Karev when leaving to Switzerland. Yang showed us all that is ok to have your own personality and demonstrating love and care on your own terms.
Bailey is one of the characters that have changed the most during the years and if you give yourself a moment to think about it you will see that there is just more to that than just becoming a mother or aging. There is one episode that we can see the young Miranda once she joined the team of Seattle Grace, and even though she was so smart and intelligent, her soft personality and lack of confidence while still so young made people believe they could just run her over, still her ideas and bully her. After getting the confidence she needed and moving forward in her career she became stronger and built a tough facade to make sure people would respect her on a world that unfortunately nice women are usually shut up, and I can only imagine it gets worst when you are a black woman — as Pierce would say, sometimes you just need to bring the thunder. After a while she finally got the respect and job she deserved and for me it just feels like she finally felt comfortable in coming back to who she was and demonstrating more of her loving side. As the show develops we are seeing that some of her old problems are coming back as people thinking they can push her over and manipulate her (Hello Catherine Avery), but we can only hope for a twist in the plot where she will finally have more confidence in herself and will bring the thunder, but will not be forced again to be the “Nazi”. We really need a character that shows that it is not because you are nice to people that you are not as competent as others and that you can’t handle your own job.
Webber is a controversial character as I think most of us have a problem with him cheating and neglecting sweet Adele for so many seasons, but he is there to show us that we all have flaws and that sometimes against all odds we might have different types of love for different people. He loved Elis Grey, she was probably his great love, but yet he cared so much for Adele that he didn’t want to hurt her by divorcing and ended up doing so much more harm by neglecting her for most of the years of their marriage, putting his needs on top of hers and letting her come always in second place, either because of Ellis or the hospital. I don’t think he is wrong by focusing is his career, as I praised that for Young you should know that, and as we see in his flashbacks him and Elis suffered so much in the early days as they were trying to rise in a white men’s world and I can only imagine that he would have to work even harder to prove to others that he deserved to be where he was. So as you can see his plot has a lot of conflicts and it is not as simple as one would imagine, but yet, it just comes to show us that sometimes the best way to not hurt people is just to be honest with yourself and them. Richard and Elis had a similar way of thinking and goals and they would probably get each other dreams, while Adele wanted to raise a family and a husband that would be able to spend more time with her, so either you compromise a little or maybe it’s best to let the other one go. He is also so empowering to the black community as a wise and brilliant surgeon, that was the first black man to be chief of surgery in Seattle Grace — as Miranda was the first black woman.
Torres not only is a fun and charming character, but she is so important to bring visibility to bissexuals, as this a struggle even inside the LGBT community. When coming to sexual diversity Shonda could just choose to have a male gay character and playing safe, but yet she decided to have a bissexual character and let us know that this is real and for many times Torres talks about the prejudice she gets from everyone, including Arizona, for not being a lesbian and being a bissexual. Her plot is really well developed and you don’t have to try to read between the lines, you are actually part of the journey from the moment she starts to realize she feels desire for both women and men, her first relationship with a woman, coming out to her catholic family and the struggles of that, her pregnancy of Mark Sloan and telling to Arizona and how the three of them handled raising their family, her marital problems with Arizona, fighting for the guard of Sophia and the dilemma that Arizona is also her mother even though she is not her blood child. We all watched all of her journey and honestly I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t cheer for them the same way they would for Meredith and Derek for instance. I mean, you can have your preferences if you liked them together or not (the same goes for Merek), but there is no way their relationship didn’t touch your emotions the same way a straight couple plot would.
Derek was our beloved McDreamy and yet so many times he was just an asshole, he had amazing qualities but yet at some points we could see so many sexist ideas coming from him. We all remember when he got furious with Meredith for sleeping around even though he was the one with a wife he kept in secret, and we get it when you are in love with someone you will get jealous and say stupid things, but the way he presented the problem it was so much more about her being a woman and sleeping with a bunch of guys. So it just comes to show us that there is no such thing as a prince charming that is perfect, we all have flaws and sexism is still a real issue and women are judged by society in different ways than men. To quote Yang: “He might be Dreamy, but he is not the sun.” I also really enjoy how male characters were built in this show, none of them is perfect, but they are not complete sexist guys that you just want to run from. Honestly, I love Sex and the City, but have you ever stop to think about Carrie’s boyfriends? They were all terrible and Mr Big ended up seeing the least of her worries. So that is my point, when we teach women that men are either perfect or hideous we are not giving them much choice and they believe in settling for the least of the terrible ones. So I’m thankful for real human beings as Derek, Sloan, Jackson, O’Malley, Webber, Karev and showing that there are still guys like Hunt that will just try to pressure women to do something they really don’t want to.
Those are just some of the examples of why Shonda has such a great impact in our culture and that if we continue to produce shows, movies and books like those we will just be showing great role models for our society, especially for the younger generations that will watch them and feel that it is all natural, instead of analyzing and praising something that we should all be doing. It is also really important to say that she hardly uses stereotypes in her characters as so many other writers do when describing and building minority characters. We call minorities those who have their rights diminished, but make no mistakes, together we out number those who try so hard to maintain their power in our expenses. Thank you Shonda for giving us compelling stories where the most important things are the human beings and not their gender, colour of skin or sexual orientation.
If you liked this article, get engaged by commenting or sharing it with your friends. Let me know if you agree and which other characters do you feel are really important to a world that is prejudice free.