Few people have changed the face of television over the last decade more than showrunner Shonda Rhimes. The creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder has developed a stable of shows in which black women fill leading roles and equal weight is given to characters who are—as Oprah put it in her 2013 TIME 100 tribute to Rhimes—“gay, straight, single, divorced, lost, searching.” And these stories are far from niche offerings—growing audiences and the Television Academy alike continue to prove their universal appeal.
Rhimes grew up in a household where creativity was a virtue, with a mother who took her storytelling seriously from the moment she began spinning yarns. When she broke out with the wildly successful Grey’s Anatomy in 2005, she found a cadre of women in Hollywood eager to help cultivate her future in the industry. Rather than meeting with competition, she says, “The women that I have met in this town have always been really embracing.”
When asked how we might continue to build a television landscape that more closely reflects the diversity of the real world, Rhimes’ answer is simple. “It’s who is telling the stories,” she says, “because the people telling the stories are the people deciding who you see onscreen, they’re the people who are deciding who are in the writers rooms, they’re the people deciding on the crew.” The onus, she says, is on her and her colleagues to raise a generation of showrunners to fill those screens, those writers rooms and those crews with storytellers who reflect the full range of human experience.
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