Shonda Rhimes’s new cover story in The Hollywood Reporter is so much Show Your Work and I’ve already pitched it to Duana for our next podcast episode because we could spend the whole time talking about what Shonda gives us here. But the detail in the piece that’s getting the most coverage is what she says is the straw that broke the camel’s back when she decided to leave ABC for Netflix.
Let’s set the stage here. Reminder: Shonda Rhimes, in 2017, was ABC’s “most valuable creator”. Grey’s Anatomy had already, by that point, been on the air forever. And Grey’s Anatomy prints money both from advertising and licensing since it’s now also a hit on Netflix. It has made more money for ABC than Shonda made from ABC. Like wayyyyyy more. Scandal was also still on the air. So Shonda was renegotiating her contract and they were trying to nickel and dime her. On top of that, she’d spent years having to push back against conventional network standards which can often be a creative barrier. Showrunners and screenwriters have been talking for decades about the stupid ass notes they get from network executives and the limitations on story from the traditional networks has been one of the reasons HBO and the streaming services have been so attractive to content creators.
So that’s the energy that was in play at the time. And then the Disneyland pass drama happened. One of Shonda work benefits was an all-inclusive pass to Disneyland. She has three children so, obviously, this is a perk. But she doesn’t have a life partner so she negotiated a pass for her nanny. What you’re seeing in the headlines right now is that she asked for another pass for her sister when her sister was visiting (the passes are not interchangeable) and had to push for it, and was told “we never do this”, like it was such f-cking labour, and when they finally agreed, her sister was still turned away at the gates and Shonda had to call again and haggle over the pass at which point an executive told her, “Don’t you have enough?”
Imagine how that landed, this network executive (and almost all of them are white men, although it’s not specified if this person is) telling a Black woman that she has enough. Shonda immediately called her lawyer and made her deal with Netflix.
The thing is, though, in most of the coverage about this Disneyland pass story, it’s being characterised as petty revenge – I mean, maybe it is revenge…but is it really? Is it really?
Calling it petty actually undermines the real issues here and the nuance involved when you unpack the situation. The situation is this: Shonda’s sister was a caregiver that day, alongside the nanny. Her sister accompanied Shonda’s oldest daughter to the park while her nanny stayed with the two younger children. Why? BECAUSE SHONDA WAS WORKING!
She was working for the company that was denying her the opportunity to provide a fun experience for her family. So this story? It’s not about petty. It’s about women in the workplace, about managing careers and parenting. And about a workplace making it more difficult for one of their greatest assets – a woman – to do both.
On top of that? This workplace – ABC is owned by Disney – is supposed to be all about family! Disney is the most family brand! Disney’s ostensibly all about family experiences! Family content! Family family family family!
So now one of their employees is like, oh hey, I’m so busy making money for you but I also want to bring joy to my family and hope my kids can go to one of our company’s signature locations, can you hook me up so that my caregivers can have a fun day with my children? And they respond by throwing up roadblock after roadblock over a pass that, in the grand scheme, should only cost them a phone call, a couple of emails, and not that much money! All because some asshole, or a couple of them, in a suit decided that this Black woman has “enough”?
Enough what, exactly? She comes up with the characters and the stories and the series that millions upon millions of people around the world watch, obsessively. So what is it that she actually doesn’t deserve to make her feel like she’s overreaching beyond what she’s produced?
This is not petty. It’s not petty to react to being insulted. They insulted her. She refused to let it continue and bounced. She was in a position to be able to make that decision – and she made it.
And now Shondaland’s first project for Netflix is about to be in our homes for the holidays. Have you heard about Bridgerton? They released the first promotional photos last week and OH MY GOD Shonda is coming to save Christmas.
Happy Christmas!— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) October 15, 2020
Well, sort of. Here's your first look at Bridgerton â€“ our debut series from Shonda Rhimes' Shondaland.
Coming to Netflix on 25 December.ðŸŽ„ pic.twitter.com/YJ74wdOSCh
We will all be bingeing Bridgerton on Christmas Day. We will be bleary-eyed and breathless by the next morning. We are all going to want this man to be our boyfriend.
Meanwhile, what’s on ABC over Christmas? I dunno, do you?