Shonda Rhimes Says ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Diverse Casting Makes Her ‘Embarrassed for Television’
Grey’s Anatomy has aired 18 seasons for a reason. Fans love the explosive finales, witty characters, unusual circumstances, and cast chemistry. The medical drama focuses on Meredith Grey, but so many doctors of all colors and sexual orientations have helped advance the show.
Show creator Shonda Rhimes has a different take on that “diverse cast” honor. How embarrassing is it that a show that initially featured an Asian best friend and Black doctors was proclaimed such a diverse program compared to all of the others at the time?
When the 2005 show premiered, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ had one of the most diverse casts on TV
The hit ABC series got its start in 2005. At the time, programs like Bones, Medium, How I Met Your Mother, Supernatural, and Ghost Whisperer also debuted. Look at these shows, and you’ll see predominantly white casts.
Look at Grey’s in its first season, however, and you’ll find doctors like Cristina Yang, Preston Burke, Miranda Bailey, and Richard Webber — all people of color. Though Grey herself and many of her other resident-friends were white, Grey’s Anatomy started with more diversity than most other shows that aired around the same time.
By 2021, the show has added to its diversity in other ways. While both gay and bisexual characters, like Callie Torres and Arizona Robbins, have emerged, it was only in recent seasons that a fully gay couple’s storyline was so predominately shown. (We can thank the characters of Levi and Nico for that.)
Now, a non-binary character has been added to the mix. As Grey goes to Minnesota to begin working on a cure for Parkinson’s disease, Dr. Kai Bartley, played by E.R. Fightmaster, is there to assist. They identify as non-binary both on the show and in real life. Dr. Bartley may even be a new love interest for Dr. Amelia Shepherd.
Why Shonda Rhimes finds this focus so embarrassing
Rhimes was asked in a recent interview about what she thinks Grey’s Anatomy‘s legacy will be once it finally ends. Insider indicates how sad she feels about diversity being the main takeaway. It paved the way for so many other shows to begin adding people of color to their casts and not being afraid to put unfamiliar faces on TV. However, Rhimes wishes there was never a need for this in the first place.
Already in the 21st century back in 2005, the shock of such a diverse group of characters should not have been evident. It’s taken 18 years for more shows like this to be the norm and not the exception. The world isn’t made of just straight, white people. Black, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, bisexual, questioning, and non-binary people all help make up the world. They should also be represented on television.
Though Rhimes is glad her show has resonated so well with so many people, she still feels embarrassed that the legacy won’t focus on something more. She’s received many “compliments” over the years. She’s heard many times that the Grey’s world feels like a fantasy. Why is that, she wonders? Are Black men and women not capable of being doctors? Of course, they are. And they have been for quite some time, whether people have noticed or not.
Another writer of the show, Jamie Denbo, spoke with Insider about her thoughts. The objective of writing for Grey’s Anatomy and representing more people’s true stories is to always strive for more.
Denbo discusses the importance of simply letting a character exist as themselves without putting such a strong emphasis on how they’re different. In the case of Dr. Bartley, for example, it’s never really focused on how they are non-binary. It’s a quick mention, and then Bartley is left to be the talented doctor they are.