Lee Daniels Exposes Homophobia in 'Empire' & It's a Hopeful Sign for Progress on TV
Lee Daniels wasn't beating around the bush at the Television Critics Association panel about his new FOX drama, Empire. He's got a clear goal: "I wanted to blow the lid off more on homophobia in my community." Empire deals with the complex issue of homophobia in the African-American community, which Daniels called "rampant." The antihero of Empire is Luscious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard, is a former drug dealer and now the CEO of a music company called Empire Entertainment. One of Lyon's sons is a gay performer, and Lyon wants him to be straight.
Daniels discussed more in depth the homophobia that he feels is particularly strong in the black community:
Homophobia is rampant in the African American community, and men are on the DL. 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.
It's a difficult subject to broach, but Daniels embraces those unique stories to shed light on real issues: he did so with his two subversive films, Precious and The Butler. After the disappointing whiteness of the Oscar nominations, it's becoming more and more clear that television right now is the frontier for diversity and expanding what TV shows look like. At the Golden Globe Awards last week, the top prize for Best Actress in a Series, Musical or Comedy went to Gina Rodriguez for Jane the Virgin, who gave not one but two fierce speeches in which of course she was grateful but also mindful of reminding people that this is a victory and "allows our culture, Latinos to see themselves in a beautiful light."
Her win, and the visibility of the LGBT community at the Globes ceremony (especially with The Normal Heart) as well as Jeffrey Tambor's win for Transparent, a show in which he plays a transgender woman, are hopeful signs that television is taking action to increase visibility for non-white, non-cisgender roles and actors. Don't get too hopeful just yet, though: though the 2015 Golden Globes WERE more inclusive than last year's ceremony, the representation was still objectively low. But with shows like Jane the Virgin and Lee Daniels' Empire, helmed by strong, diverse creators, writers and directors, I think we can take more stock in TV to tell the stories that films are still not telling.