We love Empire, but…
By Lemuel Reddick
Everybody’s talking about Empire, this season’s hottest new show. Its ratings have soared and the show has already been renewed. But even as we are addicted to the exploits and the music of the Lyons family, the show offers some of the worst stereotypes of black men and women. It has Lee Daniels, a black creator, and black writers and directors, but still features the angry black woman, gold diggers, violent black men, gun violence, and drugs that we have long complained about.
For example, we see Lucious and Cookie, played by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, as founders for the profitable Empire Entertainment. However, the basis for their success originates from drug money. The stereotype here depicts African-American success with ties to criminal activity. Similar to Empire, STARZ hottest show, Power, also uses criminal activity as the road to economic success for blacks.
On Empire, we also see Anika, played by Grace Gealey, as Lucious’ fiancee. She is intelligent and beautiful, yet pompous and arrogant around Cookie. She’s college-educated but a classic gold digger perpetuating the myth that a woman, in this African-American, must marry a man for his wealth. A third stereotype: Cookie and Anika trade insults and threats whenever they are in each others’ vicinity. Just like on every reality TV show, they turn into two angry black women who think that the only solution to problems is violence and sister-hating.
A few more stereotypes—that the black community is more homophobic than other cultures, which explains Jamal’s reluctance to reveal his homosexuality; the idea that rich black kids are spoiled; and Andre’s“squareness” and marriage to a white woman signals that he is a sell-out who does not fully embrace being black.
Ricky Riley, a writer for Atlanta Black Star, notes that many black shows traffic in stereotypes, pointing to several shows that are portraying blacks in a negative way. “As entertaining as HBO’s The Wire was, all of the main characters were portraying thugs, drug dealers and criminals,” he writes.
The television series’ Basketball Wives and The Real Housewives of Atlanta both focus on the exes of famous celebrities and show how these women fit the ABW stereotype. “The women would fit into the Brash Black Women stereotype. Confrontations are always solved through violence. It fuels the idea of the “angry Black woman,”’ says Riley.
The more that shows depict African Americans negatively, the more that people will believe that all blacks fit the stereotype. Even as we enjoy shows like Empire, it’s important to view them thoughtfully and understand the messages behind them. Only then will we see the problems shown in the media and try to fix them.