In Shondaland, come for the diversity stay for the pulp

Say what you will about any of the Shondaland productions, but they’re changing the face of television for millions of people.

The studio, run by Shonda Rhimes, produces “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” Look familiar? Yes, that’s ABC’s entire Thursday night schedule. I can’t recall of a time when any one show runner was responsible for an entire 3-hour block of TV, and certainly not when said runner was a woman of color.

And the characters she’s responsible for navigate waters that, sure, swirl with all the turmoil of a soap opera, but they are an unarguably complex and diverse cast of people she’s elevating. The face of her #TGIT (Thank Got It’s Thursday, the hashtag for her ratings Titan) is neither the usual white nor man. In fact, Rhimes is responsible for only three women of color to win a SAG award for Best Female Actor in a Drama: Sandra Oh, Chandra Wilson, and Viola Davis.

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 4.17.00 PMHer shows are commonly referred to as pulpy, addictive dramas that are only looking for the next gasp, and if you’re looking for a critic to refute that those adjectives (at least, often) apply keep looking. But to ignore the change of face or her ability to charge into heated political discussions without looking back (for reference check out almost any episode of “Scandal” for one of their feminist speech moments). Rhimes demonstrates an ability to not only want change but to demand it–and make it more than successful.

36_Shonda_Rhimes_Cover_EmbedIn her speeches she tells the story of a woman who knows she’s got the skill and the luck to keep going, but she’s not afraid to remember that there are others who fought for her to get this far, and still more who will continue fighting. Her characters are a natural reflection of a woman who’s aware of the intersectionality she comes from and stands at, and who manages to translate that to the page to create flawed, strong, and whole characters. They might be living in pulp fiction, but they’re a better representation of the facts than we’d ever seen.