Jamal's Sexuality Backlash On 'Empire' Shows The Unfortunate Realities Of Being A Celebrity
On Wednesday night's episode of Empire , Jamal caught backlash from members of the gay community for his short-lived fling with Skye Summers. Though the middle Lyon son is confident in his sexual orientation, Lucious decided to use this dalliance to make LGBT supporters doubt Jamal — just in time for the American Sound Awards, for which the father and son are both nominated. Empire makes it clear that by causing this backlash against Jamal, Lucious has gone too far, and again uses this storyline to portray sexual orientation and the pitfalls of celebrity in a realistic, progressive way.
While Jamal has identified himself as a gay on Empire, he said in the March 30 episode that he believes "sexuality is fluid." "Just because I have sex with, uh, two women in my entire life doesn’t mean, you know, I’m straight or bi or anything," he told Cookie in "Death Will Have His Day." But in this week's Empire episode, "A Rose By Any Other Name," it's speculated that Lucious has quietly piqued public interest in his son's sexual orientation. However, viewers only hear about the rumor and its effects from secondary sources — marketing guru Jameson Hinthrop, who confronts Jamal directly, and a flash mob that angrily serenades Jamal and Becky with a song called "Flip Flop" to the tune of Hakeem's "Drip Drop" (complete with actual flip flops). You can watch the "Flip Flop" moment in the video below.
Of course, Jamal fights back the best way he knows how — through song. Jamal may not be a fan of labels, but sadly the public is, and Lucious knows that with celebrity often comes intense scrutiny about all aspects of one's life. This is very true of celebrities in real life as well. For instance, Cara Delevingne's relationship with St. Vincent (a woman named Annie Clark) last summer was so heavily analyzed, the model had to actually defend herself, as she told the New York Times, "My sexuality is not a phase. I am who I am.” Even back in the early 2000s, there was a media fascination with Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson's relationship, with outlets trying to label Lohan as bisexual, even though she had not labeled herself. On Empire, Jamal is facing similar scrutiny, with Jameson and his fans trying to put the singer in a neatly labeled box, calling him bisexual or a "flip-flopper."
This ties into Jamal's season-long journey of trying to find his place in the music industry — Is he a "gay artist"? Or is he an artist who just happens to be gay? The public shouldn't expect such defining labels on something as complex as sexual orientation, or even musical genre, but they do. Even Taylor Swift faced some scrutiny about going from country crossover singer to full-on pop superstar with her smash hit album 1989. It seems nothing is safe when you live in the public eye, whether it comes to your music or who you have sex with, and that's proving to complicate both Jamal's personal life and career.
As for Lucious himself, viewers have long seen how he isn't supportive of Jamal. The first episode of Empire showed a flashback of Lucious literally throwing him in the garbage. But Lucious was a little too happy when he spotted the flirtation between Jamal and Skye, declaring that "she fixed" his son. In this week's episode, Jameson tells Jamal that Lucious came to him, bragging about the fling with Skye and telling people Jamal may not actually be gay. And while his actions are extremely offensive and hurtful, Lucious is not simply a mustache-twirling villain here.
The Lyon family patriarch is a much better-drawn character than simply Empire's own Satan, although sometimes his sons have labeled him just that. To its credit, Empire has always given context to Lucious' (often misguided) actions, which are more often than not the result of his complicated past, old-school thinking, deep love for his family, passion for music, and thirst for success. If you think about it, Lucious' own career is in limbo: He was ousted from Empire by Mimi Whiteman and wife Camilla, and he's trying to claw his way back via Cookie's scheming. The only thing he has left is his music and that ASA nomination. It doesn't make what he is doing to Jamal OK, but it does show that there is more to his motivations than wanting to see his son suffer.
"A Rose By Any Other Name " proved that Lucious' smear campaign is taking this ASA competition too far, but it also reminded viewers of how well Empire can portray the complexities of human sexuality. As Jamal continues to look for his place in the music industry amidst this backlash, I'm sure that successful will only grow.
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