Over the last decade, Thursday nights have become a national event for fans of Shonda Rhimes’s television shows, namely “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
The experience is dubbed as “Shondaland,” however, is not merely a back-to-back-to-back marathon of Rhimes’s genius storytelling.
It is crucial to recognize it also functions as a platform where Rhimes forces audience members to analyze situations without clear, morally correct answers, and pushes them to make their own judgements, specifically relating to the problems faced by minorities. Additionally, the concept “has grown to encompass the range of issues her shows explore—the kinds of gender politics and personal dramas encountered by her unapologetically ambitious, multicultural female characters,” according to Fast Company.
Perhaps the most culturally significant part of Rhimes’s shows is the vast diversity in the casting. After receiving a diversity award from the Director’s Guild, Rhimes stated, “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,” as reported by Brooklyn.
At the inception of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Rhimes was in complete control and read “every color actor for every single part,” according to The Week. This caused the entire fictional hospital to be run by three powerful black characters, one of them being a woman; a massive statement 13 years ago.
Besides including different races, Rhimes also doesn’t shy away from incorporating characters with varying sexualities in her scripts. Even in the most recent seasons of her shows, there is evidence of just how groundbreaking this inclusion is.
In response to an angry tweet about LGBTQ+ representation on “How to Get Away with Murder,” Rhimes wrote, “there are no GAY scenes. There are scenes with people in them. If you are suddenly discovering that Shondaland shows have scenes involving people who are gay, you are LATE TO THE PARTY. If u use the phrase ‘gay scenes,’ u are not only LATE to the party but also NOT INVITED to the party. Bye Felicia. #oneLOVE,” according to E!
Considering all of this, perhaps the true hero here is not the art produced by Shondaland, but rather, Rhimes herself. With the massive success she has enjoyed, Rhimes has continued to her fight for diversity and inclusion off-screen by starting an online space to discuss the social injustices against minority groups she often tackles on-screen.
“With Shondaland.com, the company will expand the award-winning Shondaland brand by providing a home for complex articles and honest conversations beyond the fictional space,” according to Shondaland.com.
Both on and off-screen, Rhimes is a champion voice for all minorities, which in and of itself is a fact that makes Shondaland shows worth watching.
Possibly the most remarkable aspect of Rhimes’s character is her willingness to write the stories her actors want to tell. “Usually, television producers of popular shows are reluctant to let their main actors take visible bold stances on controversial social issues for fear of alienating eyeballs. Rhimes appears to welcome it,” as reported by CNN. For example, “Grey’s” actor Jesse Williams has spoken out about police brutality, an issue tackled on the show itself.
Rhimes’s ability to translate real world struggles to a fictional storyline and back to conversations is exactly what this world with so much hate and lack of empathy needs. Shondaland makes viewers step out of their comfort zones and step into the shoes of people that resemble their friends, neighbors and co-workers. Complete with dramatic love triangles and stunning plot twists, Rhimes’s shows appeal to and should be seen by all in an attempt to understand and respect those living in the world around us.