Inside Television: There's no stereotyping in ShondaLand - the production company headed up by showrunner du jour Shonda Rhimes

 

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The Independent Culture

Ever been to ShondaLand? If you've ever seen Grey's Anatomy, Scandal or Universal's new How to Get Away with Murder, consider that passport stamped. All three series were created by the production company headed up by showrunner du jour Shonda Rhimes – and she isn't the only female writer-producer having a moment.

For a long time the "Golden Age of Television" referred only to male-led shows, but what's remarkable about this new wave, is not so much the creators' gender, as the diversity of their characters. The work of Rhimes, Jenji Kohan and Jill Soloway features a whole rainbow of ages, sexualities, genders and ethnicities. Perhaps, then, it's to be expected that attention has zeroed in on the issue of representation. Expected, but not fair.

A New York Times critic caused offence with an article about Rhimes's "angry black woman" characters who are "wrought in their creator's image", the underlying assumption being that a show by a black woman, must be a show about Black Women. Meanwhile, Mindy Kaling, showrunner of The Mindy Project and a woman of South Asian descent has rejected even the expectation that she engage with criticism regarding diversity.

A straight male writer is not considered a failure if his lead doesn't represent all facets of the straight male experience, yet for women and minorities, the bar is set higher. Perhaps that's what makes How to Get Away With Murder, such relaxing destination television.

ShondaLand is a place where a character can be whoever they are, without the pressure to either live up to a stereotype or pointedly reject it. Wish you were here?

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