Shonda Rhimes Eats Her Own Words
"I found [rumors that Isaiah Washington would be replaced by Eriq La Salle] not only ridiculous but offensive," Shonda Rhimes told People Magazine in October 2006. "The [idea] that one black [actor] was interchangeable with another seemed disturbing to me." Fast forward to summer 2007 when the new "Private Practice" cast photo may stand proof to "Grey's Anatomy" creator's disturbing hypocrisy.
After Isaiah Washington's on-set tantrum (October 9, 2006) erupted into full-blown tension over the actor's use of a homophobic slur, ABC and Shonda Rhimes initially failed to address the incident, opting instead to send actors on a number of talk shows (including an Oprah Winfrey's "Grey's Anatomy" special in November) trying to persuade the viewing public there was no problem on the set.
Furthermore, Shonda Rhimes pulled out the race card, technically a non-issue at the time, and made the aforementioned statement, possibly designed to take focus away from the homophobic aspect of the incident and rather attack those who dared suggest Isaiah Washington should be let go. Almost a year later, not only is Washington off the show, but that very statement may come back to haunt Mrs. Rhimes.
The scribe and the producers of her new series "Private Practice," a spin-off to "Grey's Anatomy," made a decision during the summer to replace Merrin Dungey ("Alias") who had already appeared in the much-touted May double episode of "Grey's" - which served as a pilot to "Practice" - in the role of Kate Walsh' BFF Dr. Naomi Bennet with another African American actress, Audra McDonald.
As someone who failed to see anything offensive or disturbing about suggestions that Eriq La Salle replace Isaiah Washington (if a role the viewers are familiar with for over 2 seasons is being recast, isn't the new actor supposed to resemble the original actor as much as possible?), I really don't see a problem with the casting of Audra McDonald.
But, if Mrs. Rhimes was being serious about her aforementioned statement, shouldn't she have reinforced her opinion by hiring, for instance, an Asian or Caucasian actress, Mrs. McDonald's exceptional talent notwithstanding? After all, the viewers are barely familiar with the character - she has only appeared in one episode of "Grey's Anatomy."
I am afraid Shonda Rhimes expressed those absurd concerns only as part of the overall damage control strategy at the time. And I find it disappointing and unfortunate that such a sensitive issue was brought into play for the sake of covering up problems that subsequent developments confirmed to be genuine.