WBEZ | Grey's Anatomy http://www.wbez.org/tags/greys-anatomy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Don't ignore the "diversity factor" http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-10/dont-ignore-diversity-factor-109000 <p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/1398363_540486319363338_1251593255_o.jpg" style="height: 429px; width: 620px;" title="(Facebook/Sleepy Hollow)" /></span></p><p dir="ltr">I won&rsquo;t say that the only reason why I first tuned into &quot;Scandal&quot; was because there was a character &ndash; the lead character &ndash; that looked like me, but that was certainly a major factor. Television, despite its fluctuating ratings and successes from network to network, has become a larger medium. Its influence and storytelling capabilities have become more influential and more important than films.</p><p dir="ltr">In fact, as the film industry moves closer and closer to a formula that avoids &quot;risk&quot; (whether risk means original storytelling, romantic comedies, or stories featuring women), television &ndash; with its abundance of channels and numerous options available at any given moment &ndash; has become more experimental in its presentation.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">On the surface, it is ridiculous to say &ldquo;adding diversity&rdquo; is a risk. With ensemble casts, it is easy to throw in a black or East Asian face and call it a day. Whether or not the character is interesting or relevant to the show&rsquo;s structure as a whole matters little. Their presence should presumably be enough. But visibility can only go so far. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">It&rsquo;s not a matter of just adding new faces. It&#39;s a matter of showing that these faces are here for a reason, that they matter, that the show could not function without them there. That is a true sign of diversity. That the faces and bodies are different, yes, but also that they are just like anyone else: flawed, charismatic, and central to what makes a show &ldquo;click.&rdquo; </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">Few television creators are bucking this trend, but there are noticeable, successful exceptions. Shonda Rhimes, the creator of &quot;Grey&rsquo;s Anatomy,&quot; recently cancelled</span> &quot;Private Practice,<span>&quot; and still rising &quot;Scandal,&quot; has found a formula that works: cast based on talent rather than physical appearance. Her shows regularly feature leads of a variety of different races and ethnicities (not just &ldquo;black,&rdquo; which many lazy executives recognize as the only type of diversity necessary). And by sticking to this formula of casting for quality over race, Rhimes&rsquo; shows have found a home with millions of viewers. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">&nbsp;<a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/176301651/Hollywood-Diversity-Brief-Spotlight-2013" target="_blank">A new study</a></span>&nbsp;from the UCLA Bunche Center for African American Studies reported television shows that featured a cast of 40-50% people of color performed the best in median household ratings in 2011-2012. To boot, casts that were more than 90% white performed the worst, both cable and broadcast television.</p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">According to a </span><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/08/arts/television/08foge.html?pagewanted=print&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">New York Times article</a>, Rhimes &ldquo;didn&#39;t specify the characters&#39; ethnicities,&quot; in the pilot of &quot;Grey&#39;s Anatomy,&quot; her first show, &quot;so her casting process was wide open.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr"><span>Sandra Oh reportedly shaped her character </span><span>Christina Yang when she walked in the door: </span></p><p dir="ltr" style="margin-left:36pt;"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">&ldquo;Even though some network executives assumed Ms. Oh&#39;s hypercompetitive character would be white, Ms. Rhimes did not - in the pilot&#39;s script she wasn&#39;t even given a last name - so all it took was one &quot;fabulous&quot; audition from the &quot;Sideways&quot; star to christen the character Cristina Yang.&rdquo; </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">The success of Rhimes&#39; shows have given ABC much needed life. Outside CBS, the remaining three major networks are struggling to create a new hit, yet Rhimes has managed to produce one with nearly every new show.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">More recent examples include FOX&rsquo;s &quot;Sleepy Hollow.&quot; It features black, Hispanic, and Korean-American actors, and was the first new show of the 2013-2014 television season to get an order for a second season. This same formula can be found in movies, such as the &quot;Fast and Furious&quot; films which have become more successful as they get more diverse.</span></p><p dir="ltr"><span>Many young black adults of my generation consider the &#39;90s to be the golden era of diverse TV. It was a time when shows featuring black actors with agency, hopes, fears and character development was a reality. Our childhoods made shows like</span> &quot;Living Single,&quot; &quot;Family Matters,&quot; and &quot;The Fresh Prince of Bel Air&quot; <span>seem like the norm rather than the exception. It seems now our golden era was merely a fluke, a series of network decisions to capture the trend of black people on television and ride it to a final conclusion in which there would be none at all. </span></p><p dir="ltr"><span id="docs-internal-guid-3d52e672-ebd7-3d0f-e479-6ae2ed2d58a6">In 2013, the issue is not just about blacks on television, but about a variety of different races, ethnicities, genders, and bodies on television. Our understanding of diversity has expanded since then. Blacks are used as the default because of our history as the country&#39;s largest minority population, but &ldquo;the black factor&rdquo; and the&ldquo;diversity factor&rdquo; remain at issue. If the &#39;90s were the golden era, then the aughts were the draught. In this new decade, let&#39;s reverse the damage.&nbsp;</span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Britt Julious is the co-host of&nbsp;<a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbezs-changing-channels" target="_blank">WBEZ&#39;s Changing Channels</a>, a podcast about the future of television. She also writes about race and culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow Britt&#39;s essays for&nbsp;<a href="http://wbez.tumblr.com/" target="_blank">WBEZ&#39;s Tumblr</a>&nbsp;or on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/britticisms" target="_blank">@britticisms</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 24 Oct 2013 14:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-10/dont-ignore-diversity-factor-109000 It's OK to love Shonda Rhimes' television shows http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-05/its-ok-love-shonda-rhimes-television-shows-107128 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/AP120110152184 (1).jpg" title="Showrunner and producer Shonda Rhimes (left) with 'Scandal' star Kerry Washington. (AP/Chris Pizzello)" /></div><p>Shonda Rhimes is important. She is critical. That it has taken the <a href="http://t.co/jULNPbAiIH" target="_blank"><strong>mainstream media</strong></a>&nbsp;this many years to discover and talk about this speaks to the ways in which we discuss the creation of entertainment and the systems within the entertainment industry itself. The entertainment industry is male-dominanted, exclusive, and isolationary.</p><p>Shonda Rhimes &ndash; a writer, producer, and showrunner who at one time maintained three successful television shows (<em>Grey&rsquo;s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal</em>) at the same time on one network &ndash; bucks this industry standard, instead creating work that is inclusive, unique, feminine and fun. These traits are not typically used to describe Important Television, but Rhimes&rsquo; rate of success over failure, fandom over derision, deserves further examination and praise.</p><p>Shonda Rhimes is a feminist. She might not say it explicitly, but it can be seen in her shows. They stem from a female perspective. This is a reflection of Rhimes herself. She is a female writer, producer, and showrunner, an extreme rarity seen only in a handful of recent examples (Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling most notably). Rhimes controls the content of her shows. They are born out of her vision.</p><p>And it is her vision that turned many from indifferent to appreciative. Rhimes&rsquo; shows feature female lead characters. This strong vision can be seen through the actions of her characters &ndash; their decisions to openly discuss and have abortions, their struggles over life choices in work and home life &ndash; and even the conceit of the shows themselves. She explores their inner lives, desires, wants, and concerns and takes them seriously.</p><p>Audiences witnessed <em>Grey&#39;s Anatomy</em>&#39;s Christina Yang&rsquo;s (Sandra Oh) forthright desire to have an abortion when pregnant. The first time, she suffered a miscarriage before the procedure. The second time, years later, she underwent the procedure, never wavering from her desire to not be a parent. That millions of viewers saw this on primetime television and the world did not implode shows that Rhimes&rsquo; vision is a reflection of the very real inner lives and actions of many contemporary women. Her audiences can appreciate such storylines because they are true and because they are given the respect they deserve.</p><p>As well, Rhimes&rsquo; shows are diverse, something that is still a rarity on mainstream television and in Hollywood in general. Her latest show, <em>Scandal</em>, features a black female lead portrayed by Kerry Washington. Earlier this year, when reflecting on the importance of <em>Scandal</em>&rsquo;s Olivia Pope, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-02/praise-messiness-scandals-olivia-pope-105271" target="_blank">I wrote</a>:</p><blockquote><p>Depictions of black characters in film and television especially usually fall into one of a limited number of tropes: the tragic, the sassy, the perfect. Olivia does not fit neatly into any one category. She is a woman in the wrong kind of relationship, one that is forbidden and heartbreaking. She is smart and authoritative and strong in self-assuredness. When she is right, she is very right and she will let you know it.</p></blockquote><p>This same characterization can be seen throughout her shows. The characters are messy and complicated. Their decisions are often riddled with holes and major consequences. Like real life, Rhimes understands that these are choices people make &ndash; white or black, young or old &ndash; and the things we normally consider their otherness have little bearing on the matter. She does not treat diversity as if it&rsquo;s something to dwell on. The experiences of the average person of color do not revolve around their race, ethnicity, gender, or other factor that makes them a minority. Rather, their experiences are just like those considered a part of the mainstream. When race is brought up, it is done casually and pointedly, not overwrought.</p><p>But most importantly, Rhimes&rsquo; shows are fun. Although <em>Grey&rsquo;s Anatomy</em> has diminished in quality the longer it has been on the air, the show in its earliest state (and <em>Scandal</em> in its current state) was an engaging, exciting, and unique program. <em>Grey&rsquo;s Anatomy</em>, currently in its ninth season, continues to outperform many new and established broadcast television shows.<em> Scandal</em> <a href="http://www.deadline.com/2013/05/ratings-rat-race-idol-rises-scandal-hits-series-high-glee-two-men-finales-down-office-up/" target="_blank">reached its series high</a> this week.</p><p>Important Television can and should be fun. Yes, audiences desire something plot-driven, well thought-out and rich, but they also desire something to keep them coming back week to week. Rhimes succeeds where others fail. If we desire a future entertainment industry that reflects the diversity and stories of the world we live in, we should do more to praise those such as Rhimes who actively work to reflect that world.</p><p><em>Britt Julious blogs about culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow Britt&#39;s essays for <a href="http://wbez.tumblr.com/" target="_blank"><strong>WBEZ&#39;s Tumblr</strong></a> or on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/britticisms" target="_blank"><strong>@britticisms</strong></a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 10 May 2013 12:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/britt-julious/2013-05/its-ok-love-shonda-rhimes-television-shows-107128