Editor’s Note: Shonda Rhimes, the creator, screenwriter and executive producer of “Grey’s Anatomy”, “Private Practice” and “Scandal”, spoke to CNN about identity, and diversity in television. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
By Sarah Springer, CNN
Shonda Rhimes on the diversity on her shows:
I think it’s fascinating to me that we still live in a world in which people truly believe that because someone is a different color than them, that they couldn’t relate to them or have a similar experience. That’s the most bizarre thing to me.
As a black girl on television, 90% of the women on television are not the same color as you. You’re relating to the experience of people who are not the same color as you. So why wouldn’t that work in then reverse for white people? I find it fascinating that we think that the world doesn’t work that way.
For me, “Grey’s” was about me making a statement. I was making a television show that I wanted to watch and part of that was putting people of all colors in it so that you saw people like you on television.
So people suggesting that just because you’re a certain color that you couldn’t write something or be relatable to different characters is sort of horrifying to me at this point.
It’s 2012: why are we still having this conversation?
On HBO’s “Girls”, and the controversy about the show’s lack of diversity:
I don’t know if there is a responsibility on the part of the creator, I mean there is a responsibility on the part of the network.
It’s very interesting to me that HBO didn’t say: why isn’t the show more diverse? We believe in diversity, so why don’t we make this show be more diverse?
I think that’s where I lay the fault.
I’ve seen “Girls”. I think it’s delightful, I love it. And I think Lena Dunham is tremendous and interesting and a really talented writer. She made a statement where she said [she] didn’t want to try to represent experiences that were not [her] own, and what [she] knew was this.
The idea that she felt her experience wasn’t relatable to anybody who wasn’t white is disturbing to me. Because I watch the show- I find it delightful. So why couldn’t one of those girls been Native American or Indian or Asian or Hispanic or black and it had been exactly the same story?
I don’t understand why it would have to be a different story because the person was a different color.
On race in America:
Race matters, it does. It matters in a way that perhaps some of us aren’t totally comfortable talking about and some of us are a little too comfortable talking about.
I mean really, why does it still matter?
I think it still matters because there are people who still remember a time in which there was a back of the bus.
I also think there is an unwillingness in this country to acknowledge the fact that a lot of what people like to consider racial issues are actually economic issues.
On “whiteness” in Hollywood:
The idea that there’s this weird assumption of whiteness, that people are assumed [white] unless told otherwise, that’s very strange to me.
It’s a “Hunger Games” problem. It’s the idea that people missed that Rue was African-American, and when they had found out that they’d cast an African-American, they were like “Oh my god, how can they?”
It’s pervasive and I find it weird. I find it weird that as a country we assume people are white until told otherwise.
I don’t know how you solve people’s assumption of whiteness, that whiteness is better than anything else, or more relatable than anything else.
It’s so naïve and so ignorant that I don’t know how you overcome it.
On who should answer questions about diversity on television:
I think it’s really interesting that people always call me to ask: why aren’t there enough African-Americans in television?
My response always is: “Why don’t you pick up the phone and ask some white guys? Why ask me, the black woman who casts black women, why there aren’t more black women on television?”
I couldn’t tell you, because I’m busy casting them. Why don’t we ask some of the white guys –many whom are lovely, wonderful guys who I know and who seem well–and ask them, because I guarantee you that would actually, probably do more to change things than asking me.