Many have conveyed disappointment with Shondaland’s newest show: After all, it’s not Grey’s Anatomy. Many have compared it to the CW’s Reign: A beautifully designed, hard to follow, historically inaccurate, teen drama. But with a racially diverse cast this time, which, to many critics, seems besides the point (with the notable exception of places like Colorlines). But the racially diverse cast is very much the point: yes, the Leo-Claire Danes Romeo and Juliet featured an African American Mercutio. But most film interpretations of Romeo and Juliet have been strikingly (yet unsurprisingly) white. By shifting the focus to characters other than Romeo and Juliet, (and even casting Romeo as a person of color, though he isn’t around for long) Shonda has successfully centered African American actors in two places where it’s rare: interpretations of Romeo and Juliet and historical dramas.
Many have commented on the show’s audacity: not simply an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, of which there have been many (some modern, some starring cats, some focusing on transgender characters), but a sequel? But what critics are actually conveying with these comments is that they don’t think an African American woman should write a sequel to Shakespeare.
By writing this show, Shonda has asserted the importance of women of color, showing that they to, can adapt Shakespeare. They exist everywhere, whether it’s 1300s Verona or the 21st century television landscape, that still for some reason does not cast many people of color.
Reign, for it’s soapy wonder and beautiful costumes, is white. And, frankly, most of TV is. But if all Still Star Crossed manages to become is the racially diverse Reign, it’s still important. Though I would argue, that Shonda, in the vein of Margaret Atwood and Jane Smiley, has created more than a diverse version of reign: she has created a feminist retelling of Shakespeare, and an intersectional one at that.