On-Screen Representation: How Grey’s Anatomy Goes Beyond Romance, Drama & Medicine

Grey’s Anatomy Continues To Go Beyond Romance, Drama & Medicine
Grey's Anatomy season 17 throws a light on the lack of representation of persons of colour in medicine. Image credit: Lucifer-Season

A decade and a half ago, the journey of Grey’s Anatomy began as a medical drama known for its spicy romance and representation of the lives led by interns in a hospital. Over the years, the show has gained prominence as one that breaks the hearts of anyone who dares to love it. The creators didn’t shy away from killing off even the most loved characters when the need was felt to close certain story arcs — fuelled by real-life circumstances and commitments.

A show so bold, one can certainly expect greatness from it. If you are someone who has stuck around for the currently ongoing Season 17, you are bound to have noticed the ripples it has managed to create, especially when it comes to issues around race and discrimination in medicine against the backdrop of the currently raging pandemic.

Grey’s Anatomy is perhaps a key show when it comes to the representation of persons of colour, something that can be attributed to both — the stories they tell and the people involved in telling these stories. In a conversation with Variety, Debbie Allen and Chandra Wilson expressed how the shows they grew up watching and started their careers with weren’t as inclusive or representative.

Working on Grey’s Anatomy gave them the chance to be in positions of power to tell better stories and hire more diverse crew members — something they have worked on to achieve in the last few years. They were able to pay it forward.

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Quite a few of the main characters are non-white persons, especially women and their storylines depict the challenges faced by women of colour in real life. The best part about these narratives is how the stories don’t necessarily say things explicitly, they are woven into the fabric of the show in a more intrinsic way.

The phenomenon was best described by Chandra Wilson when she told Variety, “We never were a show that beat you over the head with what you were supposed to see, we just showed you. We don’t have to make political commentary, we just showed you.”

“Then as an audience, you get to walk away and think about ‘wow I hadn’t thought about something that way before’. I related to that other human being as opposed to being hit over the head with what you think and what you should feel,” she added.

In the currently streaming Season 17, the show focuses heavily on the bias in medicine against persons of colour. The rage can be felt across the board, even stretching prominently to the show’s spin-off series, Station 19. Doctors can be seen raising the issue in multiple scenes, discussing how there needs to be a better world and we simply can’t go back to the way things were pre-pandemic. The show does justice to these conversations by providing solutions as conclusions.

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In the latest episode, two key changes are brought in. One where a character decides to take over a foundation that runs hospitals across the US to radically tweak things from a position of power and privilege. And, to create better medical facilities for women and persons of colour.

The other is where the show discussed the need to fix things in medical education and the hospital chief decides to offer the position of residency director to a character who can fuel her rage into making the curriculum inclusive.

What makes Grey’s Anatomy unique is the simple fact that it doesn’t feel like one that is trying too hard to make a statement. It has simply been packaged, from pretty much the very beginning, in a way that these topics come up organically.

Earlier, the show has taken up topics like the need to study female masturbation as a way for pain management, how people end up looking at white male doctors for reassurance even if they are much lower in hierarchies, trauma management among soldiers, taboos around mental health and discussions about pay scales and how women need to fight harder for what they deserve.

An aspect unique to Grey’s Anatomy is that they have been able to evolve their storytelling techniques with the way the world was changing around them — they dedicated an entire season to just the pandemic with a focus on how it was impacting the marginalised communities.

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They are responsive and understanding of the need to normalise conversations around taboo topics, to give people a chance to see on screen the lives they lead.

There is a lot this show teaches people, especially young women. It isn’t just all about romance and fictitious medicine — it’s about the life we lead and the one that continuously unfurls around us. The show does justice to it all — leaving a multitude of lessons in its wake.

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