'Empire' Season 2 Ratings Increase As The Show Continues To Prove The World Wants Diverse Stories

Empire has just started its second season, but the numbers for the premiere are proving what was already suspected about the show: that it's one of the most crucial hour-long dramas on television right now, and maybe of all time. The Empire Season 2 premiere ratings are astronomical, reaching an audience of over 20 million, and Fox estimates that, with streaming, the total viewership is 22.5 million people. This just speaks to the magic and gravitas of the dynastic drama about Luscious and Cookie Lyon. And thank goodness so many people are watching, because the show's message — and the history it's making — are the stuff that makes a legacy and an impact.

The season premiere numbers mean more that 22 million people saw the controversial and already iconic Cookie Lyon appear before a crowd at a #FreeLuscious concert in a gorilla suit in a cage, and then deliver a message about the institutional racism of the justice system. If that's not bold, I don't know what is— especially on a show about the world of hip-hop that can't even use curse words. And, besides being so timely in its commentary about race and family dynamics, and the implications and limitations of the American dream (this show does a lot), what particularly interests me is the viewership and the moment that Empire is creating.

Taraji P. Henson, who plays the larger-than-life Cookie Lyon, was nominated for a Best Actress in a Drama category at the 67th Annual Emmy Awards. Though ultimately she lost to Viola Davis, her nomination, and the fact that she wasn't the only black woman in the category, were making history themselves. It sounds like a low bar, but when she spoke about losing, Henson proved just how self-aware she is about the state of diversity in Hollywood:

It was bittersweet, you know what I mean, because we all want to make history and be important to society and everything. But then I thought about it. I was like, "It's 2015 and we have a black president and no black woman has ever won in this category. Like, this is weird." So, when I went into it and I knew I was being nominated alongside of Viola, I just thought to myself, "God, just please give it to one of us so we will never have to say that again. You know, let's just break this barrier down and keep on pushing.

Empire is the glamorous, melodramatic, crazy kind of show that is transcending the ratings game. Not only is it participating in a political movement by commenting on race and politics with its plot lines, the success of the show itself is a defiant, blinged-out middle finger to a sea of shows that are still predominantly white. Empire is proving what people of color already know, but that the entertainment industry can't seem to latch onto quite yet: that exploring diverse American stories is what TV was made for, and that people are absolutely willing to tune in and watch those diverse stories come to life.

However over-the-top the acting and scripts can be, Empire is already putting its foot down as a show that will not be ignored — and neither will diverse voices in Hollywood. Even better, millions of people are getting that message every week when Cookie, Luscious, Jamal and the rest of the Lyons raise hell.

Images: FOX; Giphy