Lee Daniels, co-creator of Fox’s hit show Empire, has become a well-known name that has risen to the top of the writer’s boiling pot. However, is Daniels perpetuating work that is actually sound and entertaining? Most fans of the music-geared show are split on the decision of whether or not Empire is an entertaining show with positive opportunities for black actors or whether the series is helping to kill the image of the overall black community.
Since premiering in January, Empire has managed to capture a wide range demographic. With ages 18 to 49 being the bulk of people watching, the first season gained a 3.8 TV rating and climbed during the course of the season. Season two, however, has been wavering as ratings have seemingly dipped within the first two weeks of the season’s premiere. Ratings aside, it is not the dips that cause some fans to have concern, but the fact that a show that magnifies success in black culture is done by being an ex-con, drug dealer, gangbanger, or even a corporate prostitute able to be told to sleep with an executive to gain traction and/or an advantage. In the argument that Empire is no different from shows of the same content portraying a white counterpart, fans say that it is not the same as black America must fight against numerous biases and stereotypes. The white counterparts do not have that same struggle. So, any portrayal of such things only pushes black America back by a substantial number on the game board of success in Hollywood.
Some fans feel as though the very fabric of content that is being portrayed does, indeed, set back the clock on the successes of black America. Images and portrayals of black men and women who are not only smart and independent but moral and advocates for the right thing are no longer the angles at which writer’s rooms are looking to write from. By this standard many believe that Empire joins the ranks of shows such as Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and even Blackish, where the portrayal of black stereotypes are magnified and then subliminally hidden away to prevent the overt realization that, yes, black people are not equal and, therefore, need special attention and/or need to be kept in a particular box in Hollywood; away from the “rest.” It is due to this argument that many Empire fans continue to wonder if the series is helping to kill the black community image rather than build it up properly.
The only true dynamic difference between an Empire episode and a show like Scandal is the writing. Of course, people are not going to outright support a black woman who can not seem to respect the constraints of marriage; delving into an eight-year affair. Nor are fans in agreement with framing the man one claims to love but is nothing more than an extramarital sexcapade. However, though these points cause for black America to question the shows integral makeup, they can not debate the superb writing ability of Shonda Rhymes who helps make such shows so very complex, intricate and entertaining to watch. Daniels continues to receive social media flack from fans and critics alike concerning, what many consider, poor writing. One would have to ask, what is good writing? Is it not relative and/or subjective to the person who is watching?
In the case of Daniels, no, it is not simply relative. Critics say that Empire is nothing more than a blaxploitation of stereotypes that only prove to the masses that the only thing black America can do is succeed by means much more beneath honesty. The plot is stringy at best, the development of characters are disconnected and distorted, and issues of diseases that are haphazardly thrown in (ideally meant to bring awareness) do nothing more than prove how much work should be done before taking the pages of a script and sending it out to the world via a television set.
The truth for many is that the ratings come from people who are interested in seeing Taraji P. Henson act a complete fool as Cookie Lyons. It would probably be safe to say that had Henson not been a part of the cast the show’s second season would have been a moot point. It is her humor, her one-liners, and her outlandish behavior that keep the show tugging along the waters of a mediocre plot path. Whether or not fans will continue to wonder if a series like Empire is killing the black community image has yet to be determined. However, whether fans love, hate or love to hate this series, the fact remains that it is still the leading show on Fox. Even with its decline in ratings since beginning season two.
Opinion by Danyol Jaye
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