"I don't think that we have to have a discussion about race when you're watching a black woman who is having an affair with the white president of the United States," says Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and executive producer of How To Get Away With Murder. "The discussion is right in front of your face."
I have to admit a secret: I didn't watch the first episode of How to Get Away With Murder, Shonda Rhimes' newest TV show. But it doesn't really matter, because 14 million people did. While we're on the subject of how many people watched premieres of her shows: 12 million people tuned in for the season four premiere of Scandal, and Grey's Anatomy got 9.8 million views.
I wasn't exactly sure why it made me so happy, but I've come to a conclusion: it gives me hope for the future of the entertainment industry.
It's not like it's a big secret that the lead actresses on two of these shows are black women. Her shows are like a smorgasbord of different people: gay, black, white, Asian... I could probably go on.
But the best part isn't that all of these different types of people are included in these shows. It's that their differences aren't harped on, over and over again.
There are always those movies and TV shows where minority characters are constantly reminding viewers that they're the minority. You can point out the token black character minutes before he's killed off. You know which character is gay because of his flamboyant attire and attitude. Asian characters are barely there, but when they are, they're computer geeks of some sort. Math whizzes, nerds in general.
It's like they think that we'll forget that not everyone is straight and Caucasian. They expect it to be a shock to our systems, something they need to gently introduce us to, as if the real world doesn't have more than one type of person.
I think that's lazy storytelling.
When Shonda Rhimes does it, it's different. It's a million times better. She shows instead of telling.
Cyrus' entire storyline doesn't revolve around the fact that he's gay because we see his husband. We also see that he has a demanding job, between babysitting the president and dealing with his own problems.
No one talks about Cristina Yang's ethnicity on the show because she shows it for herself. It isn't explicitly said that a black lead can carry a show, because Viola Davis and Kerry Washington are proving it.
Olivia Pope doesn't constantly walk around telling people that she's a black woman. Everyone can see it. They can also see that she has work to do. There are messes to clean up, a White House to save and associates to worry about.
It makes the stories more realistic. In real life, people don't really tend to explicitly state what makes them different every minute of their existence.
I think that's why people are so drawn to her stories. Sure, the plots spin widely out of control within a matter of a few episodes. Of course we feel like we've bonded with the characters and become part of their friendships. And yeah, we fall into relationships as quickly as the characters do, and we want to scream at the television screen because we know that some people should or shouldn't be together.
It's because her characters are realistic.
We know that there are brilliant women who could run the world like Olivia Pope and Meredith Grey. We know that there are crazy talented lawyers like Annalise Keating, and students like Michaela Pratt. It's just that we're not used to seeing them.
Now that they're here -- real people on real shows -- we just can't get enough.
I'm hoping that the rest of the industry learns from Ms. Rhimes' example.