Shonda Rhimes’s Powerful Message on Receiving Her PGA Award: ‘I Deserve This’

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"People of color are never anybody’s sidekick in real life." Photo: Mark Davis/2016 WireImage

“I'm going to be totally honest with you, I completely deserve this,” Shonda Rhimes said after receiving the Producers Guild's Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television Saturday night. “I have against the odds, courageously pioneered the art of writing for people of color as if they were human beings. I’ve bravely gone around just casting parts for actors who were the best ones. I fearlessly faced down ABC when they completely agreed with me that Olivia Pope should be black. And I raised my sword heroically and then put it down again when Paul Lee never fought me about any of my storytelling choices.” The delivery of her speech may have been tongue-in-cheek, but as the solo female recipient of the award, Rhimes had good reason to leave self-deprecation at the door.

Rhimes went on to make the larger point that she had not created a new vision for television, but simply insisted on depicting the world as she sees it. “There was no blazing and no trails,” said Rhimes. “It’s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is. Women are smart and strong. They are not sex toys or damsels in distress. People of color are not sassy or dangerous or wise. And, believe me, people of color are never anybody’s sidekick in real life.”

Here are a few more highlights from her speech: 

Taking other producers to task for not making more diverse shows:

See, the thing about all this trailblazing that everyone says I’ve been doing, it’s not like I did things and then the studio or the network gasped with horror and fought me. It was 2004. Norman Lear had already done a bunch of trailblazing 40 years earlier. When I came along, nobody was saying no. They were perfectly happy to say yes. You know what the problem was? I don’t think anyone else was asking them. I think it had been a very long time since anybody asked or even tried. Maybe content creators were afraid, maybe they had been hitting brick walls, maybe they had had their spirits broken. Maybe their privilege had made them oblivious. Maybe. But for me, I was just being normal. Maybe their privilege had made them oblivious.

On being disappointed that we still have to talk about diversity on television:

I created the content that I wanted to see and I created what I know is normal. So basically, you are just giving me an award for being me, in which case I totally deserve it. Really, I am honored to receive it. The respect of this award does mean the world. It just makes me a little bit sad. First of all, strong women and three-dimensional people of color is something Norman was doing 40-something years ago. So how come it has to be done all over again? What are we waiting for? I mean, I know this is a room full of producers, so probably you’re waiting for money. 

Thanking the super producer in her life, Betsy Beers:

I can’t name everyone. So I’m going to be rude and I’m going to just name one person. Betsy Beers. She has stuck in the trenches with me day in and day out on these shows from day one of the pilot of Grey’s Anatomy. She is amazing to work with, and along way she has become a great friend. More importantly, we have over the years grown into a weird match set, and when our scary wonder twin powers activate, we become a single, terrifyingly amazing problem solving machine. Together we have seen things and heard things and done things that would make Olivia Pope run for the hills. That is called producing.