Shonda Rhimes Talks Increasing Diversity Onscreen: "It's a Simple Matter of Economics"

Shonda Rhimes - Publicity - H 2019
Jay Goldman/ABC

"Look around your rooms, any boardrooms, any meeting rooms — if everybody looks like you, there's a problem," she said at Cannes Lions.

Shonda Rhimes said the push to increase diversity in Hollywood should be an easy sell to executives, because it's "a simple matter of economics."

"Films that have casts that are very inclusive – majority minority films – are making more money at the box office than films that have majority white casts. Television shows that are more diverse and have more inclusive casts are getting higher ratings than shows that don't," she said at Cannes Lions. "It just makes more money. So it's a very simple way of having it accepted very easily."

The Emmy winner also called out the continued marginalization of women's stories in media, where films or books are still pigeonholed. She said that women need to stop allowing male critics define what is considered mainstream and what is considered genre. "There's nothing niche about being 51 percent of the population," she said.

Even though the #MeToo movement has shaken up Hollywood, Rhimes said that film and advertising executives need to continue to increase diversity in media.

"Get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. Look around your rooms, any boardrooms, any meeting rooms — if everybody looks like you, there's a problem," she said, speaking to a room full of advertising executives.

"If the work that you're putting out there has been put out there by a bunch of people who look like you, and you haven't run it through a filter of who is missing, who haven't we spoken to, who is not sitting at our table, there's a problem. Get comfortable with the idea that maybe you're going to be uncomfortable and have to add people to the table, bring people in, creatively speak to other people and bring in different voices. That's the best way to make a change," she said.

The producer was part of a panel about smashing beauty stereotypes with Girlgaze CEO Amanda de Cadenet, Getty Images senior director Rebecca Swift and Dove global vp Sophie Galvani. The four were introducing the Project #ShowUs photography campaign, which portrays women of various races, ethnicities and sizes in more realistic ways.

Citing an internal study, Galvani said seven in 10 women feel invisible or not represented in media.

"We are definitely at a place where it feels like it's more than past time to be stepping up to smash beauty stereotypes," said Rhimes, "allowing women to see themselves as they are versus as they've been told society needs to see them or as they've been defined by some very unrealistic standard that doesn't necessarily fit most women in America or most women in the world."