Shonda Rhimes, the creator of "Scandal," "Grey's Anatomy" and producer of "How to Get Away With Murder" — and the reason Thursday nights on ABC are called "Shondaland" — accepted the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award Wednesday at the Hollywood Reporter's annual Women in Entertainment breakfast. But in a remarkably gracious acceptance speech, she insisted that she hadn't actually done any of the glass ceiling-breaking for which she was being honored.
"When I finally hit that ceiling, I think it just exploded into dust," Rhimes said. "My sisters who came before me had already handled it."
Make no mistake: this wasn't fake humility. The award-winning producer convincingly made the case that, although she'd had success as an African-American woman, the people who came before her were the ones who really deserved the credit.
She turned her remarks into a poetic tribute to them and a celebration of the progress made over many years by people who are underrepresented in Hollywood — and even managed to get a Beyoncé quote in.
... So getting an award today BECAUSE I'm a woman and an African-American feels ... I was born with an awesome vagina and really gorgeous brown skin. I didn't do anything to make either of those things happen.
If I'd broken the glass ceiling, that would mean I would have made it through to the other side. Where the air is rare. I would feel the wind on my face. The view from here - way up here where the glass ceiling is broken - would be incredible. Right? So how come I don't remember the moment? When me with my woman-ness and my brown skin went running full speed, gravity be damned, into that thick layer of glass and smashed right through it? How come I don't remember that happening?
This moment right here, me standing up here all brown with my boobs and my Thursday night of network television full of women of color, competitive women, strong women, women who own their bodies and whose lives revolve around their work instead of their men, women who are big dogs, that could only be happening right now.
Look around this room. It's filled with women of all colors in Hollywood who are executives and heads of studios and VPs and show creators and directors. There are a lot of women in Hollywood in this room who have the game-changing ability to say yes or no to something.
15 years ago, that would not have been as true. There'd have been maybe a few women in Hollywood who could say yes or no. And a lot of D girls and assistants who were gritting their teeth and working really hard. And for someone like me, if I was very very VERY lucky, there'd have been maybe one small show. One small shot. And that shot would not have involved a leading actress of color, any three dimensional LGBT characters, any women characters with high powered jobs AND families, and no more than two characters of color in any scene at one time - because that only happened in sitcoms.
30 years ago, I'd think maybe there'd be a thousand secretaries fending off their handsy bosses back at the office and about two women in Hollywood in this room. And if I were here, I would serving those two women breakfast.
Read the full speech at Medium.