Sunday, January 18, 2015

Fox's Drama "Empire" Examines African American Fathers and Homophobia

Lee Daniels, the mind behind “The Butler” and “Precious” says he wants to “blow the lid off” homophobia in the African American Community using Fox’s prime-time drama Empire’s lead character’s relationship with his gay son.

Empire is a musical drama television series which debuted on FOX on January 7, 2015. Empire's cast features Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, a former drug dealer turned hip hop mogul and the CEO of Empire. Terrance is joined on the series by Taraji P. Henson who plays Cookie Lyon, Lucious' outspoken ex-wife and mother of his three sons. Henson and Howard teamed up years ago in the gritty film Hustle and Flow that shares similar, albeit low budget characteristics to Empire.

I find it refreshing that Empire addresses homosexuality in both the African American and Hip Hop communities. Daniels shared a personal insight that way too many baby boomer Black Men can certainly attest to. He said that his own father's hostility toward gays frightened him and he knows the same attitudes are being passed on from one generation to another in households around the world. He speaks the truth - a truth that even the African American Church has dealt with poorly.

"What we're trying to do is to give people the opportunity to see that what they're doing is painful," - Lee Daniels

During the show's first episode, Lyon (Terrence Howard) is battling with his just-released-from-jail wife over which of their three sons will take over their music empire. Lyon has never accepted his gay son Jamal’s (Jussie Smollett) sexuality.

(Jamal) Jussie Smollett, (Andre)Trai Byers, (Hakeem) Bryshere Gray of Fox's Empire

The first episode of the show includes a flashback to Jamal’s early childhood where he appears in a room dressed in women’s clothes complete with heels prompting Lyons to stuff him in a trashcan.

Jamal’s mother, the hard-edged Cookie comes to his rescue and admonishes Lyon for reaction to the boy dressed in female clothing. Daniels inclusion of the Mother coming to the gay son’s rescue is accurate to a fault because in the Black Community the Black Mother has long been the only consoling safe haven for black homosexual boys.

One of Cookie’s objectives is to show Lucious that sexuality aside, Jamal is just as good as his two brothers. She’s determined to force feed Lucious that fact and leaves not doubt about her intentions. After Lucious agrees to let her have Jamal as her pet artist project Cookie tells Lucious :

“I want to show you a faggot really can run this company”.
Jussie Smollett as Jamal in Fox's Empire
In the show’s first episode, Daniels scripted a conversation between Lucious and Jamal during a private meeting between the two that reveals the frustration and misunderstanding of homosexuality Black fathers grapple with. One can understand these Fathers aren’t mean - spirited they just don’t know any better and have never been graced the social aptitude to deal with gay sons.

Lucious: “How’s that roommate of yours, the one with the dreads?”
Jamal: “I’m seeing Michael now, dad. You’ve met him twice.”
Lucious: “I’m sorry. Look, this is the last time I’m going to have this talk with you. Your sexuality? That’s a choice, son. You can choose to sleep with women if you want. I’m saying this to help you, cause eventually I know you’re going to release another album. And there’s people out in this country that don’t appreciate people like you.”
Jamal: “I get it. A sissy can’t sell records to the black community. I get it.”
Lucious: “Or the white kids that make up 75 percent of our sales. And you really need to stop calling yourself that.”
Jamal: “But that’s what I am, dad.”
Lucious: “I’m trying to help you.”
Jamal: “Then why don’t you get to know me? Spend some time with me.”
Lucious: “Get to know you? I know you better than you know you. You want to spend some time with me, release another album.”

The conversation will certainly land home for a lot of African American Fathers with gay sons and hopefully open a dialog toward understanding and acceptance between both parties.

Terrance Howard said "I'm glad that I can show the African-American community that this is what you're doing to your son, this is what you're doing to your nephew, this is what you're doing to the kid down the street."

The movie industry has long been under fire for exploiting issues in the Black Community for monetary gains. It is refreshing to see shows like "Empire" turn those tables and initiate concrete conversations that are the gateways to resolve and truths.

The show has everything, drama, comedy, horror, sex, but most of all- it kicks the knowledge. That’s something that has been absent from a large part of black entertainment for way too long.

Kudos to Lee Daniels for picking up the ball and scoring big with this one.

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