Monday, February 13, 2006

Open Letter to Shonda Rhimes

I originally wrote this and sent it to Ms. Rhimes, but unfortuately, it bounced back, so I guess she'll never see it. I've made a few revisions lately.

Dear Ms. Rhimes:

I hope I am not bothering you with this email. I want you to know that this is meant to be "fan mail" or maybe more accurately "friend mail", as I hope it comes across foremost as loving, and secondarily as a little bit critical.

Grey's Anatomy, when you are writing, has the finest writing of any show on TV. That's a big thing, but not what has impressed me the most. When I discuss this show with other people of color, it seems that it really reaches us in an empathic way. We feel that someone like us actually has fought and obtained a platform on prime time television. This might not be the best way to put it, but when Dr. Bailey is on-screen, I feel like a living, breathing woman of color is being portrayed. This sharply contrasts with the few other sightings of folks of color on mainstream TV where it often feels like a face of color is being paraded, but unempathetic writers are still pulling the puppet strings.

But that's not all. The character you and Chandra Wilson have created in Dr. Bailey is so powerful that she can't be "un-written" during the episodes that you are not writing. It almost feels like you are able to FORCE ethnic majority writers to empathize more when they are writing her character.

That's beautiful. I also love the feminist messages of the show, and as an Asian American, it is warming to see how three-dimensionally you have written Sandra Oh's award-winning "Dr. Yang" character.

Furthermore, your writing has only improved. The Super Bowl two-episode story was masterful in your ability to juggle eye-candy to attract the wider audience and still keep the profound human significance in the script. It was your best work yet.

But all of this is why it pains me so much to see the portrayals of Asian American men on your show. The main exception was the episode you wrote dealing with the Hmong family. On my blog, several Hmong posters and other Asian Americans discussed this episode. Most of us agreed that you must have done wealth of research to nail the writing so empathetically (even if there were a few inaccuracies).

However, when you weren't the main writer, there has been a subtle, yet consistent promotion of racist stereotypes and negative images of Asian American males. Most blatantly, there have been several times that fathers of Asian descent have been conspicuously absent (Dr. Yang's father or the father of the special needs teenager). While I understand the wealth of diversity in families, when the norm is the utter exclusion of Asian American father figures, that’s troubling. There have been a have dozen White Male/Asian Female couples. Individually, of course, this is no problem, but in the absence of any portrayals of health AM/WF or AF/AM relationships, this serves to exacerbate current racist/sexist stereotypes in our society.

This past episode featured a negative, stereotypical portrayal of a man of Japanese descent. The man callously mistranslates to the athlete his is coaching in the field of competitive eating. Meanwhile, the female character shoots down Dr. Karov’s flirtations, but is unable to communicate this because of her lack of English ability. Ultimately, she suffers the consequences of smiting this white knight and realizes the error of her ways, as she holds the Karov’s hand after the surgery. This is a classic racist/sexist plot message. In the end, the white knight, Dr. Karov has to be restrained from attacking the evil Asian man. This “good white guy/evil man of color/misguided woman of color who sees the error of her ways” plot is not only upsetting, but at this point practically formulaic for prime time television. I was physically sickened to see this portrayal.

I have tried to be patient about this and have encouraged my friends who have been more critical to do so as well. After all, we have such deep respect for what you have done with three-dimensional minority characters on the show.

But as the disparity of AF/WM couples piles up and some of the few male characters of Asian descent we get are extremely negative portrayals, it just makes begs the questions, "What about us? Why not attack stereotypes of Asian American males too?" The emasculation/fetishization of men and women of Asian descent is as pervasive in our media as the stereotypes of the violent, brutish African American male. These stereotypes attack us and deny us opportunities in our daily lives in the same way institutional prejudices hurt any ethnic minority group. They are strong, racist forces that we must resist at every opportunity, not aid with media portrayals.

Please, we really trust you and believe in both your writing ability and your sincere desire to write for a better society that strongly flows through this work. Is there any chance you might consider addressing this issue of portrayal in future episodes?

If it's not too much to suggest an idea, Dr. Karov seems to have been written (intentionally or unintentionally) with a strain of "Asian Fetish Syndrome". Perhaps it might be interesting to see him attempt to act on this (as he did in this week's episode), but be called out on it by either the woman he shows interest in or Dr. Yang's character and an educating moment on what "Asian Fetish Syndrome" is will result. In the end, the woman could be shown to be in a healthy relationship with her boyfriend or husband who happens to be of Asian descent.

Once again, I'm sorry if this is too critical or it seems like I'm trying to snatch the pen away from you. I deeply respect and thank you for creating my first favorite TV show (I've never really watched much TV before your show came along).

I have already taken too much of your time, but if you have any questions or feedback for me, please feel free to reach me at xianb8 at yahoo or (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Please keep on doing what you are doing.
much respect.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

how did you get her email address?

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah how did you get her e-mail

3:44 PM  
Blogger xian said...

Before the show got insanely popular, she was actually reasonably easy to get ahold of. One of my friends who had exchanged emails with her passed on her address.

Unfortunately, since I procrastinated, by the time I mailed the email, too many people had flooded her email address. So, I never got a real response.

These days, the show is floundering a bit on the writing, and there's way too much 14 year-old love life type of crap.

But the Bailey character still has her brilliance and last week's plot line about the free clinic and how the other senior doctors are self-absorbed pricks was pretty good.

I especially thought the scene where they realized that there was only one potential chief in the room and it was not any of them was great writing.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel the same way as the previous self-described "Asian American". Place Black American in her references to "Asians". This will convey my obervations. Grey's Anatomy is a white man's show written by a Black woman. The Blacks in the show are for the most part in the background. The white surgeons are often typified as "hot". Dr. Dreamy is portrayed as being the most knowledgeable--even moreso than his chief who he apologitically called an idiot. Blacks don't have any signficant roles in the show. This dissaapoints me as essentially all of tv and big screen film are white oriented. Black shows portray criticism of other Blacks mostly the ones of darker hues. As in "Grey's Anatomy" you don't see any Blacks in sensitive romantic roles. The closest romantic role a Black person played was that of Dr. Burke with Dr. Yang. The "Nazi" -- Dr. Bailey is portrayed as the sterotypic "Sapphire". All roles of POC's are sterotypic and the white man's fantasy is ever present. After all in real life Meredith is marrying a Black man. The show needs to break out of sterotypes and create better scenarios for POCs or don't put any POCs in the show at all. The latter suggestion will not hurt your ratings.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to see the kind of writing the first season had. Real, gritty, and health centered. I am growing weary of the romantic entanglements that are on again and off again! It is less about medicine and more about soap opera relationships. As far as the disparity with people of color, the earlier letters spoke well. As a white woman I would like to see richer and more realistic portrayals of color. It may surprise some that I wish that so many shows were not so white centered...I mean I am white, but there are all kinds of people in our community and I would like to see them portrayed on the shows I watch. I would rather NOT see all the ridiculous romantic entanglements...Why was Isiah Washington taken off the show? It is quite obvious that there is a huge hole missing without him. He was a strong presence on the show and it is not the same. I know, I know he said something that was not appropriate about gays...Of course I support gay rights, but are we all going to be so sensitive to a comment? Perhaps I do not have the full picture? Instead of bringing in a new female heart surgeon, I do wish that another strong man of color would have joined the show. This used to be my favorite show, now I roll my eyes...I am still watching but it will not go on much longer if the focus does not change. The actors are obviously talented and warrant more challenging scripts. I hope that this will happen in the future. I would like to say that it is my favorite show again~

3:31 AM  
Blogger Anesha said...

Hi Nice Blog . I don't really know a lot about Human Anatomy study or art, but that's just my 2 cents. Really great job though, Krudman! Keep up the good work!

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for a hot sexy black male or asian male to help give Grey's some real substance. This WASP theme/issues is so boring. I stop watching the tele to go and work on the internet or I'll pick up the phone and call a friend. It's not intriguing to me anymore. My sister and I use to call one another during the commercial breaks of Grey's to discuss the previous segment.
The show needs a boost.

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

Those complaining about racial balance need to realise that there will always be more Jewish & Asian Doctors in terms of proportion of population. Similarly, there will always be a higher proportion of African Amercan basketball players.

"It's a widespread view, but true in only a narrow sense. People who say they are against teaching the theory of evolution are very likely to be Christian fundamentalists. But people who are against taking seriously the implications of evolution, strongly enough to want to attack those who disagree, including those who teach those implications, are quite likely to be on the left."

The reason for the higher proportion of Asian & Jewish Doctors is that they have a higher proportion of people to the right of the average on the Bell Curve. This is partly genetic.

G. Cochran, J. Hardy, H. Harpending, Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, Journal of Biosocial Science 38 (5), pp. 659–693 (2006).

"Heritability estimtes for intelligence quotient (IQ) range from 0.50 to 0.80. This makes IQ a suitable target for attempts to identify the specific genes involved."

Chorney et al, Role of the cholinergic muscarinic 2 receptor (CHRM@) gene in cognition. Molecular Psychiatry (2003) 8. 10-13.

"A substantial body of literature from twin, family and adoption studies documents significant genetic effects on human intelligence. Heritability estimates range from 40 to 80% and meta-analyses suggest an overall heritability of around 50%"

Dick et al, (2006) "Association of CHRM2 with IQ: Converging Evidence for Genes Influencing Intelligence." Behavioral Genetics.

"Multivariate genetic analyses indicate that general intelligence is highly heritable, and that the overlap in the cognitive processes is twice as great as the overall phenotypic overlap, with genetic correlations averaging around .80."

Plomin et al (2004) "A functional polymorphism in the succinate-semialdehyde dehydrogenase genes is associated with cognitive ability," Molecular Psychology 9, 582-586.

Black children adopted by white families mature to have IQs that are consistent with their biological peers and are not higher, due to their rearing; Asian children adopted by white families mature to have IQs that are consistent with their biological peers and which are higher than their adoptive parents.

[see Rushton, J.P. and Jensen, A.R. (2005). Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol. 11, No. 2, 235-294.] [also see Jensen, A. R. (1998). The g factor: The science of mental ability. Westport, CT: Praeger.]

5:30 PM  
Blogger shashank said...

Here is a link to more information about the genetics of Succinic Semialdehyde Dehydrogenase Deficiency that was prepared by our genetic counselor and which has links to some useful resources for those dealing with this condition: There is also a phone number listed if you need to speak to a genetic counselor by phone. I hope it helps. Thanks, AccessDNA

3:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I get her email, I need ti get to her ASAP! I can be reached at If u can pls reach out to me by email. Thank you for any assistance you can be?

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember there was a black surgeon on the show. Isaiah Washington. He allowed his mouth to end us from seeing a black face (who had a great part in the show)on the show. His mouth was personal attacks outside his role on the show.

5:18 PM  

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