July 6th, 2016 – A petition was started on change.org calling for actor Jesse Williams to be fired from ABC’s long-running show Grey’s Anatomy after he gave a powerful speech about racial inequality at the 2016 BET Awards. People started signing, a new counter petition was created, social media users commented like it was their job, and then the queen of ShondaLand finally responded. The Grey’s show runner (and creator of many shows airing on ABC) first retweeted Jesse Williams‘ non-direct but also pointed response where he asked followers to not “promote empty people and their tantrums.”
Williams hasn’t responded with an official statement but again let people know he wasn’t taking the petition seriously by retweeting a gif.
Rhimes had already sent out a message of support and solidarity to the actor, who plays Dr. Jackson Avery, after she first saw his speech.
The writer seemed to state pretty clearly that she appreciated his words. But after both petitions started gaining attention (and even more started popping up), Rhimes took some time on the 4th of July to state again that she has his back.
It’s Shonda’s world, and we’re all just living in it. Unless you’re one of the many, many characters who has been killed off over the course of the show’s now 12 seasons. Williams is currently a surviving doctor on the show and has become an integral character since joining the cast in 2009. Along with pronouncing complicated procedures and being eye candy for the hospital staff, Williams is active in humanitarian efforts often centered around racial equality. He serves on the board of directors for the Advancement Project, which is a multi-racial civil rights organization that helps “organized communities of color dismantle and reform the unjust and inequitable policies that undermine the promise of democracy.” He also starred in and executive produced the documentary “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement” earlier this year.
So when he was awarded the 2016 Humanitarian Award at BET, he had a lot to say.
“Now, I got more y’all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday so I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on 12-year-old playing alone in the park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich,” he said.
“If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
Williams had plenty people who praised him (and in doing so were accused of being guilty of the black cultural appropriation he spoke of), but Erin Smith was not one of those people. She started one of the first petitions to boycott ABC and have Williams fired from Grey’s Anatomy, which as of today has almost 20,000 signatures.
“Jesse Williams spewed a racist, hate speech against law enforcement and white people at the BET awards. If this was a white person making the same speech about an African American, they would have been fired and globally chastised, as they should be, but there has been no consequences to Williams’ actions,” she wrote on her page.
The largest petition to Shonda Rhimes urging her not to fire Williams now has over 25,000 signatures.
“Now is the time for us to stand for Jesse and petition Shonda Rhimes and the other decision makers at “Grey’s Anatomy” and ABC to support this brave leader, not just by not firing him or in any way diminishing his role or pushing out, but by openly standing with him and speaking against hate in any form,” Dawn Murphy wrote.
Season 13 of Grey’s Anatomy is scheduled to return September 22, 2016, and it seems like Williams will be along for the ShondaLand ride.