Will More Diversity Awards Help in Hollywood?

by Caroline Pate

Scandal and Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes received The Diversity Award from the Directors Guild of America Saturday night along with Scandal Executive Producer Betsy Beers.... and Rhimes was pissed. Not because she wasn't honored to receive the award, but because she felt she was being awarded for something people should be doing in the first place. "While I’m still really and truly profoundly honored to receive this award, but I was also a little pissed off."

"So was Betsy. So over many, many, many bottles of wine we discussed this.”

“We’re a little pissed off because there still needs to be an award. Like, there’s such a lack of people hiring women and minorities that when someone does it on a regular basis, they are given an award.”

Rhimes' words are especially relevant in the wake of the sudden hiring of Sasheer Zamata to Saturday Night Live . Many felt that the show was getting credit for begrudgingly doing something that they should've been doing all along. And her words especially ring true against cast member Keenan Thompson's comment that black women comedians weren't "ready" for the show yet:

“It’s not because of a lack of talent. It’s because of a lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another. And I don’t believe that that happens out of any specific racism or sexism or prejudice. People hire their friends. They hire who they know. It’s comfortable. You want to be successful, you don’t want to take any chances, you don’t want to rock the boat by hiring people of color because, well, look at us. Both Betsy and I like the world that we work in to look like the world that we live in. Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.”

Although Rhimes wisely used the opportunity to call out the desperate need for diversity on every screen, she made it clear that she was honored to be awarded. She also said she appreciated the award as an effort to recognize that problem and help fix it, saying, "The DGA, by the way, is the only Guild giving out this type of award in an attempt to draw attention to the problem, which I think is kind of badass.”

Which brings up the question: if more awards shows gave awards explicitly for diversity, would it help?

There's two ways this type of award would be received if it was given out at an awards ceremony as big as, say, the Golden Globes. People could take Rhimes' stance and applaud the effort of calling out the inequalities in Hollywood and awarding people who are working to represent people of all colors, genders, and sexualities as they really are. Or, it could be seen as offensive, a way for Hollywood to pat itself on the back for recognizing that there's a problem while doing nothing about it, simply awarding people for doing something they should've been doing all along. Knowing the Internet, no matter what the overwhelming opinion is, someone will take the opposite stance.

And isn't that the point? The Saturday Night Live debacle was bungled beyond belief, but it showed that sometimes, a diversity problem will be fixed once it's called into serious question. Making more awards for diversity in Hollywood won't fix the problem, and they could easily be offensive or be given out to the wrong people. But either way, they'll get people talking about the whitewashing of entertainment — and eventually, Hollywood will have to listen.