After 10 days of #OscarsSoWhite, Shonda Rhimes accepted the Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television on Saturday night from the Producers Guild Association. Have you read her book Year Of Yes yet? WHY NOT!?!
We reviewed Year Of Yes on The Social last week. During the segment, I read a couple of comments from our viewers. One person wrote in that she couldn’t get past the first couple of chapters because Shonda’s bragging was too obnoxious, or something. During her acceptance speech at the PGA Awards, Shonda did kind of brag, sort of:
“I'm going to be totally honest with you, I completely deserve this. 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 tone here, obviously, is cheek. Because it shouldn’t be “brave” to write stories about actual people. To write stories that are representative and inclusive. As Shonda noted:
“There was no blazing and no trails. 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.”
But the fact remains, not enough people are doing it. Not enough people are seeing it. We are still being asked to celebrate The Revenant, a tale you’ve clearly never been told before, for its “diversity” when, really, it’s yet another white guy’s journey of revenge and redemption, helped along the way by his First Nations “sidekicks”. In Shonda’s mind then, she doesn’t want to be singled out for actually wondering why the same narrative has to be repeated:
“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.
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.”
Picture Shonda in that ballroom. As she delivered her remarks, the faces she would have been looking at. How many faces were like her face? Probably not too many. So when she say she “deserves” it, even if it was meant as light sarcasm, how can you argue? How can you deny her the opportunity to “brag”? Not too long ago, women like Shonda were not just not supposed to be there, they WEREN’T ALLOWED TO BE THERE.
When a black woman transforms television and creates an empire, she is circumventing an institution that was designed for her to never succeed. Now that she has succeeded, why shouldn’t she revel in that credit, why shouldn’t she wear it as proudly as she can, not only as a symbol of what she’s achieved but also a beacon to those who will follow?
More and more I’m starting to wonder if “humility” is an elitist construct. Isn’t it easier to be “humble” when success wasn’t impossible? For those who didn’t have to fight a system that made it impossible for them to rise, “humility” is just a way to hide privilege. Because it’s a lot easier to do well for yourself when you have a head start. If, however, that head start is unavailable to you, and you not only make up the gap but you end up lapping the field, why should “humility” apply to you? Why shouldn’t you celebrate how far you’ve come? And why should you be criticised for “bragging”?
Click here for more about Shonda at the Producers Guild Awards.