Season 1 of 'Empire' and the complexity of black America

Season 1 of 'Empire' and the complexity of black America
'Empire'--will you watch season two?

For some it was twelve weeks of nail biting, jaw dropping, “Oh no they didn’t” drama. Yes! Season 1 of ‘Empire’, for me, was a smash success and nothing short of a stroke of genius. However, when I’d go through Facebook news feeds and see conversations about the show, not everyone agreed. That’s to be expected. The reasons why many found the show disdainful, in comparison to other television dramas, is what I found interesting.  Some found the show insulting, and let me just say it, black people, found the show to be denigrating and a setback to the success and image of black America.  This gave me pause to consider how complex we are as a people. 

Nevertheless, the simple question posed here is this:

Was the first season of ‘Empire’ a success?

The complicated part comes in when examining the issues of black stereotypes and what people find acceptable or not.

Here is what I’ve seen on Facebook. Mind you, this is obviously not a complete, nor thorough examination, just some simple observations I’ve had while scrolling. Each of these statements can be prefaced with–


  • Empire is a hit! Watched it every week and plan to watch next season.
  • Empire failed to portray African Americans positively and set us back a million years by typifying black stereotypes of criminals, hoodlums, and hip hop whores.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. I have observed though, that some of these same people, feel an entirely different way about other black shows. Remember, don’t forget these four words…


  • ‘Scandal’ is must-see and love Olivia Pope, her coats, clothes, swim suits, pop corn, and wine obsession, somehow overlooking the fact that she sleeps with not one, but two different white men who are friends.  (There used to a name given to women like this, but I dare not use it because we are talking about Olivia Pope for heaven’s sakes!)
  • Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are outstanding in ‘black-ish’ and that the show covers complex issues through the lens of a black family’s love.

It would seem to me that in order to give this discussion the full seriousness it deserves in view of its complexity, we need someone who understands black life to shed light on this matter.  I’d like to bring back 80s expert, Miss Benita Butrell.  This a video of her sharing about black life during the Rodney King riots.

To me, ‘In Living Color’ is a perfect example of a show that pushed the limits of black life, and really all of life, through comedy.  It was a show that all people loved, well probably more like most people. What I don’t recall were blacks saying, “I can’t support a show like this,” and they made fun of EVERYBODY!  I don’t remember anyone saying that the Wayans were “sellouts” or that they typified stereotypes of blacks. The result? A cast of comics of all races and differing genders who would go on to be million dollar successes. Should I list some? Let’s see: The Wayans FAMILY, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, David Allan Grier, Tommy Davidson, Kim Coles, Rosie Perez, Jennifer Lopez, and so many more; not to mention Hip Hop performers who hit the stage like Heavy D and Queen Latifah.

That’s why, to me, before we throw ‘Empire’ and other shows that are trying to address the complexities of black life under the bus, let’s give them a chance. It’s fine if you don’t want to watch it. Life is a remote of channels that you can switch at any time. I’m just wondering if we can expand our consciousness to understand that to talk to young hip hop hoodlums, wouldn’t it make sense to do that through a character that many young black men are sitting watching? And the same is true for issues of sexual orientation, crime, infidelity, and just plain old life.

For me, I’m not changing my channel from Fox’s ‘Empire’ for Season 2. I’ll be sitting up front, close and personal, just like Benita Buttrell.  And if the erudite of black America should change their mind and dare to to tune in, don’t worry, I won’t judge. In the words of Benita Butrell, “I ain’t one to gossip…You ain’t heard it from me!”


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    Elana Anthony

    I am a wife and mother blessed to have six daughters who fill my home with love and laughter. My passion is writing and teaching, but most especially inspiring people to live healthy lives in my faith-filled fitness classes. My dream is to have my own faith and fitness TV show where people from all the world collectively join together on our "temple" building project of enjoying optimal health. I am a certified group fitness instructor by the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), and earned graduate degrees in Writing from DePaul University, in addition to a degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion from the California University of Pennsylvania. I have seen and experienced the hand of God work and move in my life, and consider it an honor and blessing to be saved to serve.

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