Shonda Rhimes Can't Diversify Television Alone
This will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, but Shonda Rhimes' new TV show has been picked up by ABC for a series order. We've been hearing about the show for a while, but having it greenlit means that we can soon look forward to casting news and promos that will stick with us as long as How to Get Away With Murder's promo did around this time last year. The newest sure-to-be-hit is Shonda Rhimes' The Catch, which follows a female forensic accountant whose career specialty is exposing fraud for a living — which makes it awkward that she's about to get conned by her fiancé. If The Catch is anything like How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal, and Grey's Anatomy, we're in for another feminist and diverse treat that will revolutionize the face of network television.
Network television has been slow to diversify the way that online platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have been able to. You'd never see a show like Orange Is the New Black or Transparent on network TV, and many shows you can find on those big channels are overwhelmingly whitewashed. That's not so on any given Shonda Rhimes project, which features a racially diverse cast and, sometimes, whole episodes devoted to delivering powerful speeches about feminism and diversity. In the words of the woman herself, Rhimes is "normalizing" television instead of diversifying it. "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."
And we certainly can't deny that she's been successful at it. Rhimes' shows feature well-written and multifaceted storylines for women, for women of color, for people of color, for LGBT characters — and those characters can be good, evil, admirable, annoying, and sometimes all of these things within the same episode. Because she writes them as people and not as caricatures and stereotypes here to represent the whole of their race or sexuality. Rhimes' success is reflected in her successful ratings. Even when we're helpless with rage over her latest plot twist — is mentioning Derek from Grey's Anatomy too soon? — we're still tuning in to watch every week because her shows are amazing.
With Rhimes standing as such a powerhouse in the realm of feminism and diversity, it's amazing that ABC is allowing her to have four shows airing on the network simultaneously. That shows a level of trust and commitment that speaks wonders of Rhimes' skill as a showrunner, and it gives her an even bigger platform to make all of the issues that unfortunately get pushed aside on network TV to the forefront. However, as happy as I am to see more Rhimes TV, I can't deny that I'm hoping her success opens doors for other showrunners. Rhimes is very, very good at what she does, but the task of "normalizing" the TV landscape can't fall into the lap of only one person. It's unfair, it's exhausting, and it inadvertently maintains a lack of diversity behind the scenes.
Rhimes is in the minority of showrunners as both a woman and a person of color. When it comes to the people making the decisions about what's on TV and being tasked to write, produce, or direct those TV shows, the behind-the-scenes work is largely done by white men. The same holds true when you look at movies. Creating a TV show or a film is a tough business for women to break into since it's a very male-dominated field, and Rhimes shattered that glass ceiling with the success of her three TV shows and upcoming fourth. However, it's starting to feel like she only shattered that glass ceiling for herself, and that's something I would like to see change. I want to see her success lead to the success of other women and people of color with ideas for the kinds of shows they never got to watch growing up. I want to see other female showrunners and showrunners of color get the same opportunities that Rhimes has.
Until that day comes, however, I'm content to celebrate Rhimes for all of her success and to set my DVR to record The Catch when the series premieres on ABC. Even though she shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of diversity alone, Rhimes has shouldered it so well that she's never once made it seem like it is a burden to be the one making sure that these stories get told. Rhimes represents feminist and diversity issues both on and off the screen — as even five minutes on her Twitter will show you — and, in doing so, has proven that you can call attention to these issues without having to worry about disturbing the status quo and jeopardizing your career. Here's hoping The Catch will be followed by more shows not only starring or featuring women and people of color, but also written, produced, and created by women and people of color as well.
Image: ABC; Getty Images