Who Is Shonda Rhimes?
Shonda Rhimes is an American television writer, showrunner, producer and director. She is the first African American woman to create and executive produce a Top 10 network series—the medical drama Grey's Anatomy. She is also the creator of its spin-off, Private Practice, the political thriller Scandal and the legal whodunit How to Get Away with Murder. Before these series, Rhimes penned such film screenplays as Crossroads and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.
Early Years and Education
Shonda Rhimes was born on January 13, 1970, in the suburban University Park area of Illinois. She is the youngest of six siblings. Her father is a university administrator and her mother a college professor who earned two doctorates after her children were grown. Rhimes' mom is supposedly the role model for Grey's Anatomy character Miranda Bailey. An academic overachiever growing up, Rhimes received her BA from Dartmouth College in English literature and creative writing. After a short stint in advertising, she enrolled in the writing for screen and television program at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, earning her MFA. She excelled there too, earning a writing fellowship.
Soon after grad school, Rhimes sold her first screenplay, Human Seeking Same, about an older Black woman looking for love in the personals. The film never got made but it did lead to her writing the 2002 feature film Crossroads, starring Britney Spears, Zoe Saldana and Taryn Manning, and 2004's The Princess Diaries 2, starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. Having completed the teleplay for HBO's Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which was made into a 1999 movie starring Halle Berry as the titular screen star, also elevated Rhimes' status in the business.
After 9/11, Rhimes found herself thinking more about motherhood than movies and within a year adopted baby girl Harper Lee. The new mom took in a lot of television while staying home with her infant, prompting her to take a crack at writing a pilot. The result was Grey's Anatomy, a drama about a bunch of young doctors in a Seattle hospital. Some of her inspiration for writing a medical show came from her enjoyment of watching real-life surgeries on television and nostalgia for her time working as a candy striper in adolescence. Premiering in 2005, the show is going into its 16th season in 2019 and won a Golden Globe for Rhimes for Best Television Series—Drama. It also led to Rhimes creating the spin-off Private Practice in 2007, which lasted for six seasons.
'Scandal' and Other Series
Rhimes adopted a second baby girl, Emerson Pearl, in 2012, and launched another hit show, Scandal, on April 5, 2012. The show starred Kerry Washington as a fixer in a Washington, D.C., crisis management firm and offered plenty of political and emotional intrigue, becoming a ratings hit that generated social media buzz and praise for its forward-thinking vision. Following seven seasons of twists and turns, Scandal signed off with its final episode on April 19, 2018.
Rhimes's efforts have garnered much recognition, including several GLAAD Media and NAACP Image Awards for her tackling of important issues in terms of race and sexuality. After the initial success of Scandal, Rhimes and her production company, ShondaLand, worked on developing the series Lawless for ABC. The show revolves around an attorney who returns to her hometown and is based on the story of trucker-turned-lawyer Wynona Ward, who provides free services to domestic violence victims.
While that show has yet to make to the small screen, Rhimes had better luck with How to Get Away with Murder. The mystery drama stars Viola Davis as Professor Annalise Keating and joined ABC's lineup for fall 2014. The series has been embraced by critics, and the acclaimed Davis won a lead actress Emmy for her role, the first African American woman to do so.
Rhimes has said she continues to enjoy penning series like Grey's Anatomy and Scandal. "I really try to make a show that I would want to watch," Rhimes said. "If I don't want to watch it…it doesn't go in the show." In fall 2015, Rhimes released the book Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person.
In August 2017, Rhimes ended her relationship with ABC, which aired her hits Grey's Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal, and signed a multi-year deal to produce new series and projects for Netflix. In the meantime, she continued fleshing out projects already in development at ABC, with the legal drama For the People and the Grey's spin-off Station 19 debuting for the network in March 2018.
On January 1, 2018, Rhimes was among the 300 prominent actresses, agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives that announced the launch of the Time's Up initiative via an open letter published in The New York Times and the Spanish-language La Opinion.
Created in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations, which revealed an industry complicit in concealing the predatory behavior of powerful men, Time's Up announced its intention to foster gender parity at studios and talent agencies and to pressure lawmakers into introducing legislation that would penalize companies that tolerate persistent harassment.
Additionally, while the initiative featured such Hollywood power players as Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon and Emma Stone, its founders made clear they aimed to help victims of sexual harassment across all industries and pay scales with the creation of a legal defense fund.
"It’s very hard for us to speak righteously about the rest of anything if we haven’t cleaned our own house," said Rhimes. "If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?"
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