Shonda Rhimes Stresses Importance of Diverse TV in Trump Era: "My Pen Has Power"

The Hollywood Reporter

Shonda Rhimes stressed the importance of television as a global platform - even more so now than ever before - during the International Emmy Awards on Monday night.

"It's the most powerful source of communication in the world: We sit with you in your homes, you spend more hours with many of my characters than you do with members of your own family," said the executive producer of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, The Catch and Still Star-Crossed upon accepting the Founders Award, presented by Scandal actor Tony Goldwyn. "That comes with an enormous responsibility, and I take it very seriously. Words have power. TV has power. My pen has power."

Read more: The Rise (and Rise) of the International Emmys: Why the Small-Screen Award Is Now a Very Big Deal

Rhimes explained that she previously shrugged off notions that her shows' stories were purposely written to include underrepresented communities onscreen. "I don't often think about it, because I have not had to. People have asked me about diversity and I've chastised them; people have asked me about legacy and I ignored them; they've talked to me about influence and I changed the subject," she continued. "I've had the luxury of living in a free and fair America where I slept peacefully under the ideals of equality and the making of a more perfect union. The ideals are still there; whether or not we're actually gonna live up to them is the question."

Because of the election of Donald Trump, Rhimes said, she will continue to write these characters, but even more consciously. "A lot of people right now are scared, nervous or worried: people of color, any woman who values her body and her choices, LGBTQ people, immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities," she said, without ever mentioning Trump by name. "They're afraid their voices will no longer be heard, or they believe they're going to be silenced.… My pen has power - I'm thinking about that."


The ceremony was held at the New York Hilton Midtown, the same venue where Trump celebrated his presidential election victory less than two weeks ago - a fact that host Alan Cumming pointed out at the top of his opening monologue. "This hall was one the venue for one of the darkest, most negative nights in the history of this country.... This very stage was where Donald Trump first stood as the president-elect of the United States of America." He told the British nominees, "Trump makes Brexit look positively benign - still a tumor, but one that hasn't metastasized yet."

Read more: International Emmy Host Alan Cumming on His Fears (And Hopes) After Trump Election

"We do not have to breathe the same foul, ignorant and bigoted air that was so recently exhaled by the Cheeto Jesus," he continued, noting that the ballroom had been thoroughly cleansed by "industrial loads of sage" and multiple spiritual leaders. "And every one of you who walks on this stage to accept an honor is also kicking away the foul spirits that once remained here. Creativity, authenticity and brilliance is tonight the vanguard of a new tomorrow.... Let's drink to windows, not to walls."

Alan Cumming informs that room also hosted Trump's election party, "one of the darkest, most negative nights in US history." #iemmys pic.twitter.com/2X63gio7Iq

- Ashley Lee (@cashleelee) November 22, 2016

The evening's presenters shared their own Trump-related punchlines. Ed Schulz told the nominees visiting New York City, "Hope you enjoyed the trip, because the next guy might not let you back in," and Nick Sandow joked that earlier in the day, he had a meeting with the president-elect at Trump Tower, and that he'd been offered the position of director of the federal bureau of prisons. "He watched the show and said I do a great job, and he likes my credentials," said the Orange Is the New Black actor.

Damian Lewis, Peter Scolari, Bernadette Peters, Debi Mazar, Miriam Shor, Sarah Rafferty, Christina Ricci, Harry Lennix and Ben Rappaport were also among the night's presenters. The evening continued at Forty Four at the Royalton.