The Guardian: ‘Shondaland is the most integrated and interesting geography in America’

After ABC debuted its three-hour block of Shonda Rhimes programming on Thursday, including Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away with Murder, we asked four black women to explain the significance of this TV event.

American professional women around my age, like Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren, have been pretty much able to track their careers in high places by the trail of epithets: bossy, strident, pushy, overbearing. Add in the woo-hoo factor of race, and the monickers of ball-busting masculinization crystallize into the scary, rock-hard trope of “the angry black woman.” Being demeaned by decades’ worth of those terms wears you down, and many women of a certain age remain distinguished by a tendency to apologize all the time. I see it in myself: if I trip over a chair, I say I’m sorry.

All this is to say that that’s why I brought a very large bowl of popcorn and a bucket of champagne to last night’s epic enterprise, three hours of total immersion in the cluster of soap operas produced by Shonda Rhimes, where absolutely everyone misbehaves and absolutely no one ever apologizes.

By everyone, I do mean everyone.  Shondaland is the most integrated and interesting geography in America: it’s a field inhabited by blacks, whites, women with power and vulnerable men, veterans with PTSD, queer folk, Asians without accents, Republicans, autistic savants, southerners, assassins, Hispanics, and interracial siblings. They all stab each other in the back; they all have make-up sex.

It’s fast, it’s funny, but the diversity for which Rhimes’ dramas are so heralded is more than her merely having added more women or people of color. The casting is more fluid, more plastic, and head-spinningly playful than that. If her plots are often thinly disguised reworkings of old scripts, it is the transgendered, transracial mashing-up of familiar characters that is the most fun, what with black James Bonds, male Monica Lewinskis, female Professor Kingsfields, and Portia di Rossi as a gimlet-eyed version of Condoleeza Rice.  This makes for wonderfully thought-provoking confusions of category as well as great throwaway lines.

As the lesbian Latina osteopath on Grey’s Anatomy put it in one tidy nutshell: “I don’t want my daughter to have my father for a mother.” Television just doesn’t get better than that.


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