For Fox Television’s hit ‘Empire,’ the hate that dares to speak its nameEntertainment News, Online Only, Section 4A, Top Highlights Saturday, January 31st, 2015
Back in the 1970s, another ‘Golden Age’ of television, the three major networks – ABC, NBC and CBS – routinely depicted characters of color, feminists, gays and other non-white-heterosexual men. But that diversity came at a price. Blacks were usually seen as drug dealers or poverty-stricken while Latinos were low-riding thugs or the hired help. And what depictions of gay men did exist – most notably Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas on the hit ABC comedy “Soap” – were filtered through his relationships with woman. (You’ll recall he fathered a child.)So, yes, we had diversity so long as we agreed to traffic in stereotypes.
Fast forward almost a half century later and these same characters still populate our viewing landscape but with a decidedly less-pronounced stigma. Yes, we still laugh at Cameron Tucker’s exaggerated femininity and catty, attention-starved persona on ABC’s “Modern Family.” But audiences have evolved enough to recognize that Cameron is just that, a persona. There are enough openly gay men who are as far removed from Cameron – say boxer Orlando Cruz – that we can laugh at ourselves without fearing that society will see all members of the community in that light.
And the same goes for other marginalized groups.
Perhaps that’s why Fox Television’s über-phenomenal hit Empire has attracted so much attention recently for its never-gone-there before depictions of homophobia in and among the black community (albeit a highly stratified slice of the black community). While it’s misplaced, and frankly racist, to think that all black women are confrontational shrews or mixed-raced assimilationists, it is not misplaced to fault the black community for its rampant homophobia, a fact that the show does not shy away from.
Lee Daniels, the writer-director-producer dynamo of Empire (and Precious), who happens to be gay, found plenty of source material from his childhood that he incorporated into the show forcing a dialog of sorts in the larger black community. “Homophobia is rampant in the African-American community, and men are on the DL,” he said according to The Huffington Post. “They don’t come out, because your priest says, your pastor says, mama says, your next-door neighbor says, your homie says, your brother says, your boss says [that homosexuality is wrong]. And they are killing African American women. They are killing our women. So I wanted to blow the lid off more on homophobia in my community.”
One of the central conflicts on the show stems from rap mogul Lucious Lyon’s utter contempt for his son Jamal’s openly homosexual existence. “I never wanted him,” Lucious tells Cookie in episode two. (In that same episode, a much younger Lucious takes his heel-wearing son out to the trash cans and dumps him in one.) But, as David Kaufman notes on NYPost.com, “Presenting Lucious’ worldview is surprisingly brave — if not refreshing — in this moment of extreme political correctness. For while homophobia may certainly have gone out of style, it has clearly not gone away — despite the easy-breezy vision of modern LGBT life portrayed on shows like “Looking” or “Girls.” Sure, the recent half-decade may have seen monumental shifts in LGBT rights and protections. But vast numbers of gay people still face familial and societal rejection — and “Empire” should be applauded for presenting this reality.”
But if the black community, and the large television-viewing community as a whole, react in ways that are both genuine and conflicted, Daniels appears to have succeeded in fleshing out this particular storyline. ““The things that my father said to me because of his homophobia frightened the devil out of me…but that’s what’s taught in most [African American and Latino] households throughout the world. What we’re really trying to do … is give people an opportunity to see what they’re doing is painful. It’s crushing someone who could be beautiful.”
Short URL: http://lgbtweekly.com/?p=55899