Shonda Rhimes On Scandal’s “Lawn Chair” Episode: I Thought It Would Feel Dated, “Then The Police Just Kept Killing Black Men”

September 24, 2015  |  

I wasn’t the most loyal gladiator last season, but I did manage to catch “The Lawn Chair” episode, which was inspired by the tragic 2014 killing of Michael Brown. According to “Scandal” executive producer Shonda Rhimes, the idea for the episode came to her in a vision the morning after Brown’s death.

“I woke up knowing that we were going to go write ‘The Lawn Chair’ after Ferguson,” Rhimes told Elle. “I watched that coverage and was horrified. I woke up the next morning with this image of this man, of a lawn chair and a shotgun and a child underneath him. The episode came out of that.”

Brown was shot in August, and the episode was filmed in October or November, which made Rhimes concerned that the episode would “feel dated” when it aired. Unfortunately, police violence against Black men only continued.

“We shot that episode in October or November. I remember thinking, ‘This is going to feel dated when it comes out.’ And then the police just kept killing Black men.”

Ironically, the Justice Department’s explosive report on the Ferguson Police Department was released the day before the episode was set to air in March.

“Literally the [day before] it aired, they released the Ferguson Report, and it was worse than the press had ever thought,” said Rhimes.

The television executive also discussed how much thought went into the tiniest details of that episode—including comments made about lead character Olivia Pope’s “black card.” She explains:

“That episode was very interesting for us because Zahir McGhee, whose name is on the episode, [and] I basically wrote it together. He really did a good job with it, but [we] couldn’t be from more different worlds: He wanted Marcus to have attended a Black college, and I didn’t want him to—I thought it meant something different. It was just a giant battle that we waged about every detail because [McGhee] was a young black man from Baltimore, and I grew up a lot like Olivia Pope. I was trying to explain to him, There is this weird belief from people on the outside and from people in Black communities that there is only one way to be Black. And I say it in the writers’ room all the time: My Black Is Not Your Black. What’s terrifying is that, just the same way we’ve all accepted that normal is white, everybody seems to buy into the idea that there’s only one way to be Black or one way to be Hispanic. That’s as damaging as anything else.”

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