Last Wednesday marked the season finale of 2015’s biggest smash hit “Empire,” drawing in 17 million viewers to its ever growing fanbase. “Empire” is probably my favorite show of 2015 so far, beating out “Archer” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” The show has everything a good drama should and every week it packs a wallop to the face.
It hinges on the performances of Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard’s one–two combo as Cookie and Lucious Lyon respectively. The only problem is that it is on my least favorite network: Fox. A show that is the perfect fusion of the UPN shows of my youth with the quality of a Shonda Rhimes joint is on a network that has deemed themselves the savior of the black community.
It can’t be. I am a good liberal and a tolerant person. I am experiencing a level of cognitive dissonance no other person has felt because I support a show created by a network that does not particularly hold black people in a good light.
“Empire” does something no other all-black show has done before. It has hurled itself wholeheartedly into the issue of homophobia in the black community. Lucious Lyon is a gangster turned hip hop mogul who happens to have a gay son who can sing R and B. Lucious throws his son in the trash when Jamal is just a boy after catching him walking down the stairs in high heels and a scarf. This aspect of the show is based off of series creator Lee Daniels’ own life. This alone makes Empire unique in the pantheon of black shows, and Jamal’s personal journey is a central plotline.
“With ‘Empire,’ Fox has landed the top-rated new series on broadcast TV in more than a decade — and a show more popular in black households than even the Super Bowl, according to Nielsen. This week’s finale — a two-hour block consisting of a pair of episodes with the now-familiar mix of surprise twists, criminal misdeeds and catfights — drew an average of 16.7 million total viewers,” according to Los Angeles Times reporter Scott Collins.
Critics of the show point out that black actors and actresses are reduced to playing the same tired stereotypes: whores and gangsters, ghetto and violent, and loud and ignorant.
According to actor and rapper Bow Wow, “When we were still filming [‘CSI: Cyber’] episodes, ‘Empire‘s’ first episode premiered. Fans were saying, ‘Man, you should have been on the show.’ But we all don’t rap or play basketball,” he said. “We can do so many things. There are young African-Americans who are intelligent enough to work at the FBI. That’s what’s so bright. Hopefully, I can help start a new wave of young black actors who don’t want to stereotype themselves.”
Bow Wow and many others like him are so wrong. “Empire” features a multitude of black characters that reflect the wide variety of black experiences in this nation. Those white people who do watch this show will hopefully see that there are black rich brats, black overachievers, black gay-artistic-prodigies, strong black mothers who sacrifice their freedom, and black Machiavellian masterminds. However, those white people who can’t see that must have eye problems.
Scholar Dr. Boyce Watkins who criticized the show before even admits that the show is good but has reservations.
Dr. Boyce Watkins explains why he is concerned that “Empire” is “not good for black people.”
Media is about narratives and promoting a set of ideas. This extremely liberal show seems too good for Fox. However, history suggests otherwise. The same network has hosted many other groundbreaking black shows. For example, “In Living Color”, “Martin” and “The Bernie Mac Show” are just a few of the shows that brought in very good ratings for the network. Current shows like “The Mindy Project,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The New Girl” feel more like NBC or ABC shows mainly because of their diversity and open-mindedness.
African Americans in Hollywood have had to fight for the leading roles in TV because they were never really offered to them. Black women especially did not have leading roles because of issues of race, standards of beauty, and network bias. In 2015, Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis, and Kerry Washington lead three of the most popular network TV shows. Each of them are giving Emmy quality performances and breaking records while doing it.
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly suggests that Dr. Marc Lamont Hill looks like a drug dealer.
Despite all of this good, it is impossible to forget the truth: Empire is a Fox TV show. This is the same network where pulling up your pants will save black people from systemic racism, the same network were Bill O’Reilly told scholar Marc Lamont Hill that he looked like a coke dealer. This Benghazi obsessed, conservative-agenda-having network airs the most popular show in black households.
The world is a crazy place. I am conscientious in my viewing but I support the black people who create “Empire” on both sides of the camera because they have made something worth liking. I can dislike Rupert Murdoch’s political views and Fox News and still watch the show. I also understand why others might hesitate.
Content posted to MyMPN open blogs is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to MintPress News.