Yesterday at The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment Breakfast, Shonda Rhimes received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, recognizing her as a leader in the industry. Awards speeches tend to be hackneyed and eye-glazing. But not this one.
As part of her speech, she recounted asking why she’d been given the honor–the award committee said it was because she’d broken through the glass ceiling as both an African American and a woman. Yet in her impassioned acceptance speech, the creator of hit dramas like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy rejected this claim while celebrating the women who went before her. For one thing, Rhimes said, “I was born with a really awesome vagina and I have really gorgeous brown skin. To get all Beyonce about it, I woke up like this.”
Rhimes says that she was taught to be competitive growing up–that nobody in her family expected praise simply for participation. But more than that, she said the glass ceiling had been long shattered by the time she arrived on the scene as one of Hollywood’s most successful show runners. Over the last 50 years, woman after woman ran “full speed, crashing into” the window “and falling back,” she said. “Woman after woman, each one crashing and running . . . How many had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared?” Rhimes wasn’t simply paying lip service to her predecessors–both famous Lansing award-winners like Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, and Barbara Walters and the lesser known female directors and producers who now fill the ranks of cinema and primetime. She was making a simple statement which, in her humorous, poetic style, felt utterly profound.