Shonda Rhimes Urges Hollywood to Stop "Erasing" Women's Stories
The prolific TV creator and media entrepreneur behind Shondaland.com, who served as guest editor on THR's Women in Entertainment Issue, praises the women who have come forward with sexual harassment allegations as she realizes she had her own personal story to tell.
When I was initially asked to guest edit the Women in Entertainment issue, I was hesitant. Not because I'm busy (I am). Not because I thought I couldn't do it well (I can). I was hesitant because at the time, it genuinely irked me that in 2017 The Hollywood Reporter still felt that there needed to be an issue devoted to women. "As if women aren't a part of all of the other issues," I grumbled. And I do mean grumbled. "Another moment of marginalization!"
I'm an idiot. Success is a wonder drug. It bathes one in a soothing audio of self-centered, self-reflected applause. I work at a company run by me. My producing partner is a woman. My head of production is a woman. I can count the number of men working in my offices on one hand — I'm surrounded by women. On four out of five of my shows, my line producers are women. Women lead our shows. I am so deep in a matriarchy bubble over here that I forgot a simple truth: It's a bubble, and a small one at that.
Here's the thing about bubbles. They are easily popped. The New York Times and The New Yorker happened. That broke a dam that started the flood of assault and harassment stories rushing over our town and our country. Women started talking. Out loud. To each other. To everyone. Women in this town whom I didn't know before all of this started calling me. Just to vent. To talk. To tell their stories. Mostly to tell their stories. It took about 45 women telling me 45 different, highly personal stories before my own story rose up from the corner I'd shoved it in and threatened to suffocate me. So, you know, #MeToo.
Hollywood wields an enormously powerful platform that amplifies the voices of the people within it. The stories told, the faces seen, the voices heard are the results of choices made by those in power in this town. The people in power decide what a woman is told she can be. What the world sees, what the world learns about other people, often comes straight from the screens we fill.
Women make up a majority (51 percent) of the population, outpace men in earning professional degrees and hold 52 percent of all professional-level jobs in this country. And yet, in Hollywood, women make up only 20 percent of all executives and board members. In 2016-17, women comprised only 28 percent of all creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and directors of photography working on television programs. We know these numbers become even worse if those women are of color.
Women — real, three-dimensional women — are being erased from the stories told in this town. Erased from agents' offices, pitch meetings, C-suites, writers rooms, sets, postproduction. And when present, women are often used as nothing more than the shiny object in a story. It's time we became the subject. It's almost embarrassing to admit, but right now? Hollywood is the villain in this story. And yet …
The women. The women. The badass women. Rose. Asia. Annabella. Lupita. Gwyneth. Angelina. Selma. Every last one of the women. Too many to name. The courage to point a finger. The bravery that we have seen on display. Women who have shown that they know what it takes to speak up. Women who have shown that they know what it takes to support women who are not ready to speak up.
Meryl Streep, showing up to make a statement when no one else was saying a word after the New York Times article. Gal Gadot, staring down the bullet of a billion-dollar franchise with every ounce of her inner Wonder Woman.
Let's make room for the brave gentlemen who knocked over a "house of cards." And Terry Crews, who made it clear that race can remove power in the same way gender does.
The 700,000 farm workers of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, uniting with a stunning generosity of spirit to stand with our actors. There are so many heroes here. So many heroic moments. So many unsung victories. So many wars being fought on battlefields that we have yet to hear about. I wish we were at the end of the story so I could tell you some massive, amazing, twisty ending. But I think we're only just beginning.
So this issue. This issue on women in entertainment. I came to it without hesitation. With vigor. Because this issue is a celebration. Of survival. Of power. Of unity. Of the next generation. And of whatever comes next.
This story first appeared in the 2017 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.