Shonda Rhimes: Hollywood Producers, I Got Black Leads Because I Simply Asked for Them

The television showrunner is putting the onus on content creators to assemble diverse casts to then present to networks and studios.

Shonda Rhimes accepts the Norman Lear Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Producers Guild of America Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on Jan. 23, 2016, in Century City, Calif.
Shonda Rhimes accepts the Norman Lear Achievement Award at the 27th Annual Producers Guild of America Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on Jan. 23, 2016, in Century City, Calif. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Shonda Rhimes wants to set one thing straight about this idea that she did something unprecedented by casting diverse actors and actresses in her string of shows.

While it may seem out of this world, Rhimes explained that she simply cast “parts for actors who were the best ones” and created “the world as it actually is.” She said all of this to a room of Hollywood producers and executives Saturday during her acceptance speech for the Norman Lear Achievement Award at the Producers Guild of America Awards, Vulture reports.

More important, Rhimes said that contrary to popular belief, she didn’t run into opposition from ABC, the network she works most closely with, when assembling her diverse casts.

“See, the thing about all this trailblazing that everyone says I’ve been doing, it’s not like I did things and then the studio or the network gasped with horror and fought me,” Rhimes said at the podium.

“It was 2004. Norman Lear had already done a bunch of trailblazing 40 years earlier. When I came along, nobody was saying no. They were perfectly happy to say yes. You know what the problem was? I don’t think anyone else was asking them,” she continued. Yep, she put the onus back on producers and showrunners and content creators, saying that if they simply put women, blacks and Latinos in lead roles, diversity in Hollywood would probably be less of an issue. But no one was doing it.

“I think it had been a very long time since anybody asked or even tried. Maybe content creators were afraid, maybe they had been hitting brick walls, maybe they had had their spirits broken. Maybe their privilege had made them oblivious. Maybe. But for me, I was just being normal. Maybe their privilege had made them oblivious,” Rhimes added.

She reiterated the idea that she’s not creating magical lands filled with diversity, but merely writing about the planet Earth, the United States of America and what our society really looks like.

“There was no blazing and no trails,” Rhimes said. “It’s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is. Women are smart and strong. They are not sex toys or damsels in distress. People of color are not sassy or dangerous or wise. And, believe me, people of color are never anybody’s sidekick in real life.”

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Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.

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