How to Get Away with Murder, where race doesn't matter, it's the content of their characters.
Remember President Bill Clinton's strategists James Carville, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and company, when they bested President George H.W. Bush's campaign staff with the slogan that won Clinton his first term as president, "It's the economy, stupid!" Fast forward to The New York Times on September 18, 2014, "Wrought in Rhimes's Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes's Latest Tough Heroine". It's the content of their characters not race in Shonda Rhimes' dramas that matter, but I won't say "stupid." Meaning where NYT writer Alessandra Stanley sees an "angry black woman," others see rainbows. And who isn't inspired by a rainbow? It's the contents of the characters' characters, not their races that cause us to tune in. Would that our world we live in, were to mirror this. And why not? It's been said that life often imitates art.
For in creator Shonda Rhimes' ABC Network Thursday night three-show slate of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, race doesn't matter. We are too caught up in the characters and their characters. My surgeon brother James critiques the medical protocols, an integral part of the medical drama Grey's Anatomy, while his lawyer sister, yours truly, watching the new legal drama, debuting yesterday, How to Get Away with Murder, pays attention to the legal strategies, battered back and forth.
When I chaired the Law & Media Committee of the American Bar Association, I put together a seminar in 1992 about the lack of diversity in casting and the emergence of nontraditional casting, meaning the lawyer, doctor, police officer, judge, firefighter doesn't -- whether the star of the show or not -- always have to be a white male. Instead, more diverse casting options work with audiences, too. Why can't women, persons with disabilities, persons of color play roles previously closed to them like judges, police officers, firefighters, presidents. There was also a panelist representing LGBTQ concerns. NYU Law School graciously donated the space where the seminar was held. Fortunately nowadays, nontraditional casting is not such a revolutionary concept, but it was then when Broadway productions such as Miss Saigon, Will Rogers Follies, Death and the Maiden, were all under fire for their casting decisions. To their credit, management representatives from those Broadway productions, donating their time, showed up for a vigorous two hour discussion.
So who is the real-life Shonda Rhimes? To find out, why not check out her 2014 online commencement address at Dartmouth College last June? I did. A Dartmouth graduate herself, Rhimes is one of only a handful of Dartmouth alums invited back to speak at a Dartmouth commencement. I went to Dartmouth, too, during its first year of coeducation. One of my younger brothers Jeffrey, I like to say followed me there. (I don't think he likes it though, when I say that.) It's not easy being among the first women at Dartmouth as I was, nor is it easy creating and writing award-worthy television shows like Shonda Rhimes, Dartmouth '91, does.
Fittingly, at this morning's Mass celebrated by Bishop Thomas Doran at Holy Family Church in the Rockford, Illinois diocese, a reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1 about how for every time, there is a season. A time to be silent, a time to speak. This is Shonda Rhimes season. May she have many more!
Lonna Saunders has blogged on the Huffington Post since 2010. She has filed reports broadcast on the CBS Radio Network from Cleveland, Seattle, Washington, D.C. At Northwestern U. Law School, she was on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, at the time the third most widely circulated student law review. She studied drama and government at Vassar and Dartmouth. Lonna may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.