For Black History month, we wanted to shine our light on the tremendous work done by African-American and black women fiction authors.
Today we shift gears a bit to highlight the woman who has brought African-American men and women into our homes once a week, screenplay author, show creator, and producer --Shonda Rhimes (Wikipedia, Amazon).
There has been so much written about Ms. Rhimes that we thought we might focus on her beginnings -- how did she get started? What helped her in those early days?
The youngest of six children, Ms. Rhimes knew that she was a storyteller from an early age. Ms. Rhimes received her BA from Dartmouth college in English and Film Studies (1991). While at Dartmouth, she directed and performing in student productions for the Black Underground Theater Association. She also wrote fiction.
After Dartmouth, she moved to San Francisco with an older sibling. She worked in advertising for the global advertising company, McCann Erickson.
She left McCann Erickson to study screenwriting at the University of Southern California where she earned the Gary Rosenberg Writing Fellowship. She also worked as an intern for Debra Martin Chase. She received her Master of Fine Arts from the USC School of Cinematic Arts
While at USC, Rhimes was hired as an intern by Debra Martin Chase while Ms. Chase ran Denzel Washington's production company, Mundy Lane Entertainment. Ms. Rhimes credits her success to these early experiences with African-American professionals, but clearly, Ms. Rhimes was focused on gaining the experience she needed to be successful.
After graduation, Ms. Rhimes worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet. Her first post-graduate school break was working as a research director on the documentary, Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream (1995). The film won a Peabody Award that same year. She wrote, directed, and produced a short film, Blossoms and Veils, starring Jada Pinkett-Smith (1998).
Ms. Rhimes sold her first screenplay, Human Seeking Same, about an older black woman looking for love in the personals to New Line Cinema. (The film has yet to be made.)
From there, Ms. Rhimes wrote the teleplay for HBO's award winning Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999). The success of this project elevated Rhimes's status in the business. This experience led to her writing the screenplay for Crossroads staring Britney Spears (2001). The film generated $60 million worldwide.
Ms. Rhimes wrote the screenplay for The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004), the sequel to , The Princess Diaries (2001). for Walt Disney Corporation which was at time run by Debra Martin Chase.
During this time, Ms. Rhimes wrote her first TV pilot, about young female war correspondents, but the ABC turned it down.
In 2005, Gray's Anatomy debuted at a typically low interest time in the middle of a season -- usually a recipe for disaster for a new show. Gray's Anatomy was such a success that ABC moved the series to a better time slot (Thursdays) and made it the anchor of their Thursday evening programming. Gray's Anatomy is in its 15th season and continues to be ABC's highest-rated drama.
Ms. Rhimes continues to produce and create award winning, popular television drama through her production company, Shondaland. She will soon be creating content for Netflix.
Ms. Rhimes talks about her work and life in the following Ted Talk.