On Beyoncé, Shonda Rhimes, and Inspiration

Since last night, I have been immersed in my fandom of Beyoncé. Unless you live under a rock, you know HBO premiered the televised version of her On The Run Tour with Jay-Z last night. Along with most people who have an HBO subscription and are obsessed with pop culture, I watched the entire thing completely enraptured by how perfect Beyoncé is. Like, I know she’s a human being like the rest of us. Fine. But the woman is insanely beautiful and talented. And as her boo said, she probably is the best entertainer of our time. Like, dayum.

The whole thing was just a beautiful experience, even though I was watching it on TV. I danced to all my jams. I laughed whenever she cussed or got a little too ratchet. (Is there such a thing as being “too ratchet” when you’re Beyoncé?) I cried at the end when their home videos played and they wrapped up the show. And once again, I felt like a dumbass for not buying tickets and seeing the show live this summer. (I had four chances… and missed out on all of them. Shameful.) But what’s done is done. And all of the people who saw it live didn’t see it edited with fancy slow-motion effects.

Outside of life in the BeyHive, I have also been re-watching Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning. I’m currently on Season Five, when Izzie gets a brain tumor and George is still alive. I’m trying to watch it as a fellow screenwriter now—finding those moments when I’m asking, “Hmm, I wonder why she wrote that scene or made that choice with this character?” It’s also fun to find those moments when you can say, “Oh, that’s so Shonda!” Even though the characters and the world is fictional, there is always a part of a writer in their work. I enjoy finding those parts, however small they may be. I’m excited and anxious for this upcoming Thursday night, when Grey’sScandal, and How to Get Away with Murder all premiere on ABC.

It should be pretty obvious by now that I love me some Shonda Rhimes. As I’ve been deciding whether or not I want to go into screenwriting and television, I always look to her as an example. She’s done so much for on-screen diversity. She’s done so much for creating engaging, over-the-top TV with fully realized characters and skilled writing. Even though I have a lot of critiques about both Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, the woman is genius. She is a showrunner, writer, and executive producer—roles that are generally very male and very white in the entertainment industry. I love her. Like, I’ve gotten into heated arguments with my father over Shonda and Scandal. (I’ve also gotten into arguments with my father about Beyoncé.)

As I’m realizing more and more that I am not “choosing” an artist’s life, so much as surrendering to one, I need to look at these examples of incredibly successful, talented, creative Black Women to guide me. They are my role models and heroes. They prove to me that what I envision for my life, what I desire is possible.

As I may have written about yesterday, the past week has been crazy. After not being legitimately busy in months, I actually had things to do and shit to accomplish everyday of this week. And when I wasn’t being a moderately responsible adult, I was actually investing in my writing “career.” (Am I allowed to call it that?) My piece on the Daniel Holtzclaw case at For Harriet blew up this week. It has well over 125,000 views, which is the biggest response out of any piece I’ve posted before. On one hand, it feels awesome and impressive. I wrote something that actually resonated with thousands of people. It’s a small milestone, but it’s a relevant and important one, no less. It’s pretty cool to know that thousands of strangers have read something that I wrote. Like, what? That’s never happened to me before. And for the most part, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been getting tweets and messages about it all throughout the week. It’s beautiful to be supported and commended by complete strangers.

I have always written for myself, first and foremost. I don’t release anything into the public sphere of consumption if I don’t feel compelled by it in some way. But now that I’ve been contributing to For Harriet, I feel a greater sense of responsibility with my work. It’s a great amount of pressure, to consistently produce writing that is sound and well-crafted and will resonate with others. It’s a great challenge. At some point, I can no longer be a perfectionist. I can no longer wait for “inspiration” to strike. Sometimes, there’s a topic I need to write about. And so, I must write it even if I don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about it. This blog is a great example of that. It’s difficult to write regularly, because my regular life is fairly uninteresting. I spend a lot of time thinking, daydreaming, and watching Netflix. I imagine most people don’t care about that. This is the point in my career (I said it without self-mocking quotations this time) where I have to find the balance between writing for myself… and writing things that will resonate with a wider audience. It’s tough.

We start production on our web series in less than two weeks. We sent out the scripts to our cast this week, and some of our crew. I have been feeling very sensitive, now that more than 15 people are now reading and analyzing our work. For so long, we’ve kept these episodes in a safe little incubator. But now, we’re preparing to bring them to life… so then we can put them up on YouTube, for the whole world to scrutinize. To alleviate some of the pressure, I asked my best friend what he thought of the scripts. We cast him in a supporting role for the first three episodes, as my racist coworker. Of course, I was hoping and expecting for him to say, “OMG! Wow! I love them! So funny!” Instead, his response was something like, “They have a lot of potential, but we’ll see how everything looks after shooting.” He also threw in some semi-passive-aggressive comment about also having taken a semester of playwriting in college.

In some ways, I am grateful for his honesty. He didn’t say the scripts were bad. And we also have to be prepared that not every person will love the show. This was a good primer for that reality. But of course, I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit. My bitchiness has come out since. I’ve been screening his calls. (Very passive-aggressive of me, I know.) But also, I’m trying to take it with a grain of salt. I love him and he loves me. And I know that he’s very supportive of my dreams. But I also know we have a very different sense of humor. And quite honestly, he is not the audience for our web series. We’re trying to be honest about what it’s like to be a twentysomething with dreams that don’t necessarily match up with current realities. That part is universal, and I think people will relate to. But we’re also trying to deal with what it’s like to be a Black Woman on a day-to-day basis. The moments of microaggressions and/or blatant racism. The experience of never being fully heard or seen. We’re tackling all of that… in what I consider to be a very well-written, very funny show.

All of this to say, I have immersed myself in the work of Beyoncé and Shonda Rhimes in the past few days, because they are two powerful, brilliant Black Women artists whom I admire. Even though they are very different women engaged in very different work, they are very similar in many ways too. They are both known for their strength of character and impressive business savvy. They’re not just artists, but they’re skilled business women. They’ve both built brands that reach millions of people. And the thing I love most about entertainment, media, and pop culture is how seamlessly they blend artistry and entrepreneurship. Yes, the art is important and meaningful. But it’s the business and branding that draws people in, that ensures you don’t go broke. Then there’s the fact that these Black Women are two of the biggest pop culture influencers in the world. Like, I can’t say enough about Bey and Shonda.

So, I’mma go watch some of this visual album and some of these episodes on Netflix and feel good about life and art and the magic of Black Womanhood.


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