You know, that I know, that we both know about Empire and all of its flawlessness! We can dwell in the record breaking that the show has been achieving, including, but not limited to the 16.7 million viewers during the Season 1 finale, being named one of TV’s top-rated series among original episodes (psst! Empire beat out The Big Bang Theory), and continuing to grow in audience and fan base over the past few weeks of airing. However, you can read about all of that here and here; what I really want to discuss is what Empire means for the Black community.
The show has had great reviews on being a wonderful piece of art, but it also speaks volumes on a particular black experience, or experiences, rather. Because the show was made by black people, for black people, it demands a certain level of attention. It dabbles into homophobia, mental illness, and the dynamics of black women without being really preachy; the audience gets a chance to be shown, rather than told. All of these topics are imperative conversation starters that are needed throughout our wide spread community. Now, for the non-black viewers, Empire offers the opportunity for them to see that our stories go beyond slavery, mammies, the civil rights movement, being a drug dealer, or gang banging. Empire offers a platform for drama and comedy, and to show the versatility of black actors, writers, directors, producers, and all others alike.
But as usual, there has been some backlash, especially from black people raving about how the show profits off of black stereotypes. Bow Wow, or excuse me, Shad Moss is among those that is not in support of the series. He was quoted saying, “But we all don’t rap or play basketball. 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.” Hmm, but wasn’t he Byron in Tyler Perry’s Meadea’s Big Happy Family? At the end of the day, I understand what he is getting at, but we have to remember that stereotypes can make or break you. The sons of Lucious Lyon and Cookie are not only trying to put their sound out, but they are also trying to take over the business. That sounds like something we should be applauding, especially with the actual music industry being headed by old white Jewish men.
Empire offers a new narrative for black people. It shows that you don’t have to walk away from a piece about black lives wanting to either cry or mean mug the crap out of every white person you see. There is a new wave of black films, black television, black art, or just simply black (please don’t confuse this with new blacks, we ain’t for that). We are no longer waiting to see who the next leader is that will speak for us all. Instead, we are learning to speak for ourselves. It seems as though we are learning that black culture exists. We are learning that despite what many people want to force down our throats, we are not the enemy.
-a voice from young black America
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