Arts & Culture Editor
The once popular anagram “TGIF” finds itself steadily being replaced. One accomplished ABC network writer/producer is encouraging millions of viewers to claim that it’s Thursday the world should be thanking god for instead.
Every Thursday night at 8 p.m., a television event begins which ABC network has affectionately named “TGIT (Thank God it’s Thursday)”. “TGIT” is a three-hour block that features some of ABC’s most popular programming.
“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” air back to back from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and showcase not only captivating stories but exceptional characters as well. What makes these programs unique, however, is not their plots or their figures, but rather the woman who created them.
Producer and writer Shonda Rhimes has become a household name in the mouths of Americans. In addition to creating the wildly successful “Grey’s Anatomy,” Rhimes also produces two of TV’s most popular programs – “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”
“I know that she’s blowing up,” D’Ajah Johnson, junior and president of Black Student Union, said.
Although Rhimes’ show “Grey’s Anatomy” claims ten years of success, the writer didn’t garner recognition as a mastermind producer until the premiere of “Scandal” in 2012. Since then, Rhimes’ work has generated viewers who never fail to tune in to ABC’s “TGIT.” Dedicated fans of “Shondaland” also flock to the producer’s body of work.
“I didn’t watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ at first, but then I found out that she wrote it. That’s pretty much why I watched it,” junior Shelondra Harris said.
Perhaps more impressive than the producer’s success is her diverse and colorful cast, which features many prominent African-American actors and actresses.
Actresses Kerry Washington and Viola Davis both appear at the forefront of their respective shows. Washington portrays professional “fixer” Olivia Pope in “Scandal,” while Davis acts as complex professor and defense attorney Annalise Keating in “How to Get Away with Murder”.
The presence of these women as lead actresses not only diversifies television, but also produces a large ripple effect in media and in the world.
The October issue of Essence Magazine features a cover story highlighting the achievements of Rhimes and her cast. At the 67th annual Emmy Awards, Viola Davis also became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama series.
Davis dedicated her speech to vouching for more roles and opportunities for black women in television and film, saying:
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So, here’s to all the writers…who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”
Davis’ history-making accomplishment serves as proof of the impact that writers such as Rhimes are making in the television industry, especially in regard to African-Americans.
“It’s really important that we highlight these wonderful actors and these wonderful people of color who are actually doing real work,” junior Theo Hofrenning said. “I think it’s wonderful that we have spaces and institutions set aside for people of color, and that those are being successful.”
“For once, it’s good to see that all of these public people are of another ethnic group or race,” senior Yannet Gudeta added.
Beyond providing opportunities for lack women, Rhimes’s stories showcase dynamic characters. Rhimes’s fictional figures transcend traditional African-American stereotypes and provide a new, inspirational definition of “The Black Woman.”
“I remember the episode where I saw Viola Davis take off her wig, and that kinda spoke to me [as to say], ‘My blackness is okay,” Johnson said. “At school, I used to be so afraid of wearing my natural hair or taking out braids. Now, I’m like, ‘If she can do it on TV in a high-rated show then my blackness is fine.”
Characters such as Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating present the modern African-American female in a way that is professional, strong and multi-dimensional while still staying true to the ethnic experience.
“[Rhimes] doesn’t just try to…go completely over the stereotype. For instance, in HTGAWM I appreciate how she had Viola Davis wearing her head wrap at night,” Harris said. “She mixes [the black experience] in as real life.”
Although Rhimes has done much by showcasing black talent and crafting inspirational Black characters, Hollywood still seems to lack a viable amount of opportunity for African-American actors and characters. As highlighted in Davis’s speech, “you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
“It think it’s really cool that [this] is something that can happen nowadays. The fact that it’s such a big deal though, on the flip side, shows deficiency,” Hofvrnning said. “This should [just] be something that happens.”
It’s no secret that there is progress left to be made. Even so, the work of Shonda Rhimes and other writers and producers like her are making revolutionary waves in the world of television and film.
“It’s going somewhere,” Gudeta said. “It seems like we’re developing toward something that could ultimately [be equal].”
Meanwhile, fans continue to praise the work of a writer who seeks to showcase and normalize black talent and the African-American narrative.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Johnson said. “It’s about time.”