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How Ellen Pompeo Wants Grey’s Anatomy To Change The Way It Tackles Social Issues

Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey
(Image credit: ABC)

Ellen Pompeo may be taking a smaller role in Grey’s Anatomy’s 19th season when it comes to her role as Meredith Grey, but she is still an executive producer on the series who has shown that she cares about the stories they tell. To that end, the hit ABC medical drama has tackled a number of social issues, including sexual assault, racism, addiction, and the COVID pandemic, to name just some. As important as Pompeo knows that is, she spoke about the change she’d like to see when handling such touchy topics in future seasons of Grey’s Anatomy

The Meredith Grey actress spoke on her podcast Tell Me (opens in new tab) about how Grey’s Anatomy has handled certain episodes in the series’ first 18 seasons. She acknowledged that they’ve been able to cover a lot of important topics and continue to talk about what’s next. In speaking on what she’d like to see in the future, rather than picking a specific issue, Ellen Pompeo said she’d like to change how those issues are presented. She said:

I think if I had any desire [to address any issues], honestly, it would be to be less, sort of, preachy in one episode about certain things. It’s like we do one episode about, let’s see, Asian hate crimes is one we did this past season that was really moving. I think I’d like to see things happen a little more subtly and over time. You know, consistently and less ‘hit you over the head with it for just one hour and then we never talk about it again.’ I wish we could sort of touch on these social issues that are important and relevant and sort of have them be threads throughout.

Ellen Pompeo specifically spoke about the Season 18 episode “Stronger Than Hate,” which aired May 19, during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The episode featured two of the hospital’s Asian doctors Michelle Lin (Lynn Chen) and Nico Kim (Alex Landi) and nurse BokHee (Kathy C. An) — caring for the victim of a hate crime. The characters share experiences about being treated as “foreign” and being wrongly blamed for COVID and other injustices. Check out the touching scene below:

Another of Grey’s Anatomy’s best episodes — Season 15’s “Silent All These Years” discussed the process of reporting a rape, including a detailed explanation of a rape kit. While it was a scene that Shonda Rhimes had to fight to include in the 2019 episode, a similar scene was re-created on Grey’s Anatomy’s spinoff Station 19 in its most recent season, after Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz) was the victim of an assault.

While one can see Ellen Pompeo’s point about letting things play out with more subtlety over multiple episodes, the series has already done that with a number of issues. Richard Webber’s (James Pickens Jr.) alcoholism is something we’ve watched him live with throughout the series, as well as Owen Hunt's (Kevin McKidd) PTSD. 

All of Season 17 was given to COVID and the social issues brought to light through that. Season 18 featured Grey’s Anatomy’s first nonbinary character in Kai Bartley, and actor E.R. Fightmaster has talked about how important it was to play a full character who was a love interest and a scientist, and whose entire identity didn’t revolve around being nonbinary. 

It’s hard to argue that Grey’s Anatomy isn't on the right path in giving light to a number of diverse stories, but it’s also good to know that star and executive producer Ellen Pompeo continues to look at how to evolve the show for however many seasons we have left. Grey’s Anatomy is set to return at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, October 6 on ABC. The first 18 seasons can be streamed with a subscription to Netflix, and check out our 2022 TV schedule to keep up with all of the upcoming TV and streaming premieres.

Heidi Venable
Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.