Despite the fact that her shows — with their wide range of characters of different ages, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations — are the essence of the word in many ways, Shonda Rhimes would prefer you don’t describe them as “diverse.”
Scandal star Kerry Washington explained why during a panel at Vulture Festival L.A. on Saturday. “Shonda really does not love the word ‘diversity,’” the actress said. “She talks about abandoning the word ‘diversity’ and replacing it with ‘normalizing.’”
This preference, and the success Rhimes has had with her casts that more accurately reflect the world we live in, stem from a desire to avoid tokenism. “When you’re the only woman in the room, or the only person over 40, or the only LGBTQ person, you don’t get to enter into conversations about what that looks like,” Washington continued. “But when we normalize that combination, then we get to explore what difference means and how it feels and how it lives in the world.”
She stressed that Rhimes’ shows work because they stress the normalcy of their varied casts rather than focusing on “otherness” as a plot device or character trait. “You look up at this stage, and what this cast is made up of is a ton of people who society would say belong to minority or disenfranchised group, whether it’s because of their age, or sexual orientation, or race, or gender, or all of the above,” Washington said. “When these people are put together in situations, you’re avoiding the idea that you’re the only one in the room.”
Scandal returns for its final 11 episodes Jan. 18 on ABC.