Just this Wednesday, 2015’s biggest smash hit Empire, had its season finale drawing in 17 million viewers to ever growing viewership. 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 have and every week its 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 and the quality of a Shonda Rimes 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 ever done before. It has fully hurled its self into the issue of homophobia in the black community. Lucious Lyon was a gangster turn hip hop mogul that happened to have a gay son who can sing R and B. Lucious throws his son in the trash can when Jamal is just a boy after walking down stairs in high heels and a scarf. This show and that aspect about it was based off of Lee Daniels own life. The fact 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 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. There is a multitude of black characters that reflect the wide variety of black experiences in this nation portrayed on this show. 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.
Media is about narratives and promoting a set of ideas. This extremely liberal show is too good for Fox. However, the history suggest otherwise. The same network had an entire host of other groundbreaking black shows. For example In Living Color (1990-94), Martin and the Bernie Mac Show were just a few of the shows that brought in very good ratings for the network. Currently shows like The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The New Girl feel 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.
With all of this good, it is impossible to forget the truth: Empire is a Fox TV show. The same network were pulling up your pants will save black people from systematic racism, the same network were Bill O’Reilly that told scholar Marc Lamont Hill that he looked like a coke dealer, the Benghazi obsessed, black conservative –agenda- having network has the most popular show in black households.
The world is a crazy place. I am conscientious in my viewing but I support the actors and black people in front of the camera and behind because they have created something worth liking. I can still dislike Murdoch’s political views and Fox news and still watch the show. I also understand why others a hesitant.