For Shonda Rhimes, There is No Escape From Controversy Over Washington

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Technically, actor Isaiah Washington isn't Shonda Rhimes' problem anymore, and yet the hypocrisy over the controversial star continues, according to an opinion piece in Utah's Deseret News.

Washington's contract on Grey's Anatomy was not renewed; he has a deal at NBC that begins with a five-episode arc on the new Bionic Woman.

Shonda Rhimes, the creator/executive producer of Grey's Anatomy, and its forthcoming spinoff, Private Practice, is moving on.

But some of her own words are coming back to haunt her.

Shonda Rhimes Photo
In the midst of the controversy over Isaiah Washington's slur - which, regardless of its true intentions, was widely understood as being aimed at gay castmate T.R. Knight - Shonda Rhimes kept her mouth shut. For the most part.

Except when she then tried to turn an incident of homophobia (or, at the very least, great political incorrectness and insensitivity) into an incident of racism aimed at Isaiah Washington.

Responding to rumors almost no one had heard until she refuted them, Rhimes came out swinging at reports that Washington would be dumped from his role as Dr. Preston Burke and replaced with former ER co-star Eriq LaSalle.

She called the rumors "not only ridiculous but offensive that we would consider replacing a member of our family."

"And also the (idea) that one black man was interchangeable with another seemed disturbing to me."

In addition to the ridiculousness of that statement �" when an actor is replaced on any TV show for any reason, it's generally with an actor of the same race �" there's a huge amount of irony in that Rhimes recast one of the roles on Private Practice after the pilot episode aired as part of a Grey's Anatomy telecast.

Merrin Dungey is out in favor of Audra McDonald �" one black actor replacing another.

Predictably, Rhimes maintained those were entirely different circumstances. On Private Practice, the change came after one episode; on Grey's Anatomy, a recasting of Washington's character would have come in the third season.

"I think that Preston Burke is a character that audiences have come to know and love for three seasons and has really been sort of well known. I think it's very different," she said.

And Shonda Rhimes has a point. Or she would have a point, were it not for her earlier statements alleging racism. And she wasn't backing off one bit when called on her inconsistency.

"At a time in which there was suddenly some talk of, 'Let's cast this actor or that actor' and sort of naming a bunch of black actors �" as if the only thing that was important about the character of Preston Burke was his race," she said. "That was disturbing to me."

Again, that's ludicrous. It's not racism to suggest that, if an actor on a hit TV show is being recast (for any reason), an obvious pool of replacements would be actors of the same race.

If Sandra Oh quit Grey's Anatomy tomorrow, would it be racist to speculate that an Asian-American actress would brought on to replace her? Of course not.

The fact is that Shonda Rhimes' attempts to turn homophobia around and make it racism offended a lot of people. Did she understand that?

"I do now," she said.

But, she insisted, unfounded rumors of LaSalle replacing Washington were "as disturbing as the entire incident that happened for T.R. and Isaiah."

To make this clear, unfounded rumors were "as disturbing" to her as actual events involving Washington's homophobic slurs.

What makes that even harder to believe is that Rhimes didn't ever come out with any sort of statement decrying the homophobia �" she issued a press statement decrying the racism that wasn't really racism.

Doesn't sound much like she considered the former "as disturbing" as the latter, does it?

Steve Marsi is the Managing Editor of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Google+ or email him here.

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