Shonda Rhimes Talks to 'Elle' About Feminism, Writing and Police Brutality

Shonda Rhimes - H 2015
Courtesy of PMK

Shonda Rhimes - H 2015

Shonda Rhimes spoke with Elle's editor-in-chief, Robbie Myers, for an "hourslong conversation" covering Rhimes' career beginnings, her current TV lineup and issues affecting black women in the media.

The two discussed press treatment of shows depicting minority characters: "The entire world is skewed from the white-male perspective," said Rhimes. "If you're a woman, they have to say it's a female-driven comedy. If it's a comedy with Latinos in it, it's a Latino comedy. Normal is white male, and I find that to be shocking and ridiculous."

Rhimes' shows like Scandal or How to Get Away With Murder avoid marketing any one perspective as the only authentic black experience.

"I grew up a lot like Olivia Pope," said Rhimes. "I was trying to explain to [writer Zahir McGhee], there is this weird belief from people on the outside and from people in black communities that there is only one way to be black. And I say it in the writers' room all the time: My black is not your black. ... That's as damaging as anything else."

As one of the few dark-skinned women on television, How to Get Away With Murder's lead actress, Viola Davis, articulates the effects of colorism on her life and career. One big moment in particular — the famed scene in which Davis' character, Annalise Keating, takes off her makeup and reveals her natural hair — came from Davis herself.

"We heard from a lot of women about that. Hair is so complex. Literally," said Rhimes. "Viola was very clear about this: I'm a dark-skinned woman with a dark-skinned woman's hair, and that woman is never revealed on television — that kind of hair is never revealed. And I think that was a powerful moment."

Other issues have been about black communities at large. Rhimes expressed sadness at how Scandal's Ferguson-inspired episode, "The Lawn Chair," which she thought would seem dated upon airing, stayed relevant after repeated police killings. She felt it was "heartbreaking and ironically, sadly fortuitous ... the police just kept killing black men."

The interview ended on a more positive note, with Rhimes discussing love and women's self-worth. She and Myers both felt a stigma around being an intelligent, career-driven woman while, in Rhimes' words, "enjoying nice things" — the showrunner enjoys wearing Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera. "The beauty of being a feminist is that you get to be whatever you want," she said. "And that's the point."