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Shonda Rhimes: "It’s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is”

Shonda Rhimes at the PGAs.
Shonda Rhimes at the PGAs.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Shonda Rhimes doesn't see herself as a game changer. But everyone else does.

On Saturday, she won the Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television at the 2016 Producers Guild Awards. It's a well-deserved recognition for Rhimes, who has become one of the industry's most influential and well-respected showrunners and producers. Her series are such big hits that ABC has basically devoted its Thursday-night lineup to them.

Those series — namely the Rhimes-created Scandal and Grey's Anatomy and the Rhimes-produced How to Get Away With Murder — have been lauded for how representative they are. Their casts are diverse. Their female characters are well-rounded. Their people of color are more than just smart scientists, sassy friends, and/or steamy lovers.

And because television has been lacking when it comes to representing these groups, Rhimes has been labeled a pioneer of sorts.

"It’s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is," Rhimes said during her PGA acceptance speech. "Women are smart and strong. They are not sex toys or damsels in distress. People of color are not sassy or dangerous or wise. And, believe me, people of color are never anybody’s sidekick in real life."

Rhimes went on to lament television's lag in breaking women and nonwhite people out of their stereotypical roles, and speculated on a cause:

First of all, strong women and three-dimensional people of color is something Norman [Lear] was doing 40-something years ago. So how come it has to be done all over again? What are we waiting for? I mean, I know this is a room full of producers, so probably you’re waiting for money.

Lear is known for producing the '70s sitcoms All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Maude — groundbreaking television for their time. And it's fitting that Rhimes won an award that remembers his legacy.

"I created what I know is normal," Rhimes said. "So basically, you are just giving me an award for being me, in which case I totally deserve it."

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