'Scandal's' Shonda Rhimes on Scripts' 'Odd Assumption of Whiteness'
This story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Director's Guild Of America doesn't dispense honorary awards as lavishly as some of the other guilds. It has given out its Diversity Award only four times in its history -- to TV producers Bruce Paltrow (1997), John Wells and Christopher Chulack (1999), Steven Bochco (2000) and former ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson (2005).
But when members of the DGA convene for their annual awards dinner Jan. 25, the honor will again be on the table as it's presented to Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, and Betsy Beers, her partner in their Shondaland production company. In announcing their selection, Paris Barclay, who is the guild's first African-American president and who also is openly gay, noted, "They have impacted the careers of dozens of women and minorities -- they have made stars not only in front of, but behind the camera."
Rhimes, 44, had never written for episodic TV when she sat down to write Grey's in 2005, but she says she wasn't out to challenge the status quo. "I just wanted to make a television show that looked like the world around me," she says. As Beers, 55, recalls, Rhimes' script didn't specify the race or ethnicity of any of its characters. "We approached casting from the beginning as though it was like our life, and our lives are filled with lots of different people," she says. Adds Rhimes, "People only write ethnicity into a script when it's something other than white, which is an odd assumption of whiteness."
In addition to featuring diverse casts, the two producers have been just as committed to diversity among their crews. "It's the normal process of hiring," says Beers. "People with different ranges of experience, different backgrounds." A recent DGA study found that Caucasian males directed 72 percent of all episodes in the 2012-13 TV season. White females helmed 12 percent, while minority males and females handled just 16 percent. "But I find it odd that people find it surprising that we have such diverse crews," Rhimes says. "We have female directors and directors of color, and we have not had a very difficult time finding them. Frankly, maybe we've been able to get all the good ones because nobody else is hiring them, which is a shame."