Oprah Winfrey Honors Shonda Rhimes at Sesame Workshop Gala

Shonda Rhimes’ showrunner reign in Hollywood has seen many sunny days. The smash hit return of “Bridgerton” and her visionary career were celebrated during Sesame Workshop’s annual benefit in New York City last night where she was presented with the Joan Ganz Cooney Award.

“Stories should not look like the gatekeepers. Stories should look like the world,” Rhimes said from the stage while being honored at the gala which benefited the nonprofit media and educational organization behind “Sesame Street.”

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After accepting the award from presenter Oprah Winfrey, Rhimes reflected to the audience at Cipriani 42nd Street on how the children’s program influenced her life and established her advocacy for inclusivity. “I spend a lot of time talking about how the best storytelling acts as both a window and a mirror. A window to view into somebody else’s life and a mirror to reflect your own. That window and mirror allow for empathy and insights.”

The starry crowd including Martha Stewart and Lucy Liu along with president and interim CEO of Sesame Workshop, Sherrie Westin, listened as Rhimes spoke: “The sponge in me absorbed it. And now it’s so ingrained in how I experience the world without even having to think about it. I’ve made sure that the window and mirror are part of every show I write.”

Winfrey also spent time speaking from the podium about the role the showrunner has had over the years in the industry. “Both Shonda and ‘Sesame Street’ understand the impact that reflection can have for television audiences whether young or old. Shonda herself has said that the number of women who have become doctors because of Meredith Grey on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is just magical to her. And how many people of color or LGBTQ+ folks see futures for themselves on screen or behind the camera because of the Shonda effect?”

Describing Rhimes as a titan, Winfrey continued her speech that was paused several times in between loud rounds of applause from over 600 seated guests.

“Possibility is what Shonda Rhimes represents in glorious Technicolor,” Winfrey said. “If you watch ‘Bridgerton’ you know what I’m talking about because the beautiful multicultural worlds that she creates are an evolved expansion of what ‘Sesame’ dreamed up and did over 50 years ago.”

Gala host Leslie Odom, Jr. kept the momentum going throughout the evening with a showcase of unforgettable moments including Andra Day singing her hit “Rise Up” before celebrity guest auctioneer John Oliver helped raise money for Sesame Workshop with hilarious bidding tactics.

“On the show and outside the show they are incredible,” Oliver told Variety on the red carpet about how “Sesame Street” impacts on a global scale. “They don’t shy away from helping kids reckon with the difficult things that are happening in the world. So, it’s not like it’s just escapism. There’s a real utility to what they do. And it works and it’s always worked for decades. So yeah, it’s still really smart and really funny, and I’m in awe of what they do.”

The evening closed with a finale that saw the entire Muppet gang performing a colorful version of the beloved “Sing” from “Sesame Street” with Rhimes, Winfrey, and Odom, Jr. dancing on the stage. Nearly every adult attendee in the ballroom stood up and sang along playfully.

Rhimes reflected to perfectly sum up the affair, “Every child should have the opportunity to live on ‘Sesame Street.’”

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