Shonda Rhimes, the powerful producer and creator of the hit TV series Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, joined the ranks of icons like Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters on Wednesday when she received the Sherry Lansing Leadership award for pioneering and leadership.
But are her many accomplishments in Hollywood "pioneering" for women of color? Rhimes doesn't see it that way--and says there's a problem with that formulation to begin with.
In her acceptance speech at the 2014 Women in Entertainment Breakfast, Rhimes argued that she hasn't broken through any glass ceilings. Instead, she said, they were already damaged--indeed "cracked, fractured"-- by the efforts of the many women who came before her, fighting to re-define what television could mean, and what it could look like in society today.
Rhimes said she doesn't believe in receiving "trophies" for the sake of skin color or gender. In fact: "To get all Beyoncé about it, people, 'I woke up like this.'" She praised the people she called the real pioneers-- the women who "never made it to this room"--without whom glass ceilings would still be intact:
"How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared? How many cuts did they get? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it...so that when it was my turn to run, it didn't even look like a ceiling anymore?"
She concluded that she is honored to receive the "trophy of participation." After all, no single person can break through barriers without the strength and persistence of their predecessors--but certainly, they can be a meaningful part of the process.
Watch her speech in its entirety over at The Hollywood Reporter.