Shonda Rhimes, reigning Dartmouth beer pong champion, is the recipient of this year’s Sherry Lansing Leadership Award. The honor, which Rhimes accepted this morning at the Hollywood Reporter Women in Hollywood Breakfast, “recognizes a woman who works in the entertainment industry who is a leader, pioneer and philanthropist.” The nod puts Rhimes among pretty esteemed company; previous Lansing winners include Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Halle Berry, and Oprah. You never don’t want to be on a list with Oprah, right?
Well, Rhimes wasn’t so sure. Upon finding out she’d been selected, the Queen of Thursday night pressed for details: why, exactly, had she been chosen? As Rhimes explained in her speech today, “the main thing that it was said was that I was getting the award in recognition of my breaking through the industry’s glass ceiling as a woman and an African-American.”
There was something about that fact that did not sit well well with her. She said:
One of the rules in my family is you don’t ever get a trophy for participation, you don’t get a trophy for just being you. So getting an award today BECAUSE I’m a woman and an African-American feels…I was born with an awesome vagina and really gorgeous brown skin. I didn’t do anything to make either of those things happen.
To get all Beyonce about it, people: “I woke up like this.”
In the rest of her speech, which you can (and should) read in full at Medium, Rhimes explains that she knows this isn’t really just about gender and race so much as it’s about “breaking the glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town.”
And then she does something unusual — unusual for her, at least, given that, as she says, “I am not a self-deprecating, humble person.” She says she hasn’t broken any glass ceilings.
She says her success is about timing, about good fortunate, and about other people: women who came before, who fought more and attained less. By the time she came onto the scene, Rhimes said, “that ceiling, it just exploded into dust.” This award, she declared, “was a group effort.”