I must admit that FOX’s hit TV show “Empire” gives me everything I need on a Wednesday night. After the first three episodes I am completely hooked and ready to see how the family drama unfolds between Lucious and Cookie from Philly.
But it’s not just about them because there’s also a supporting cast featuring their three sons, Lucious’ beautiful second wife, their devious daughter-in-law and, as if this wasn’t already enough, Gabby Sidibe!!
(because we all need to stop calling her Precious)
Overall the casting is great, albeit a little on the underdone side. Couldn’t one of their kids have been a little darker? But, I digress. It’s Black Dynasty and I’m here for all of it!
One of the main characters on the show is Jamal Lyon, portrayed by Jussie Smollett. Jamal is gay, and he and his father Lucious’ personal war builds tension and climactic moments whenever they’re in each other’s presence. After last Wednesday’s episode Jamal became my favorite when, right before the closing credits, he stared deeply into the camera and declared that he was going to take his father’s company.
It was a move that I wasn’t really expecting because I thought, since he was the gay character, he would be placed in the role of subservience. Because let’s face it, with very few exceptions, most gay characters on TV are either ravenous whores, conflicted, victims or the comic relief.
But not this brotha. Lee Daniels is setting us up for a battle between the old king and the young prince who wants to take his crown. Honestly, Daniels does so by sacrificing the development of his other characters. Even fan favorite Cookie, who I love, will have to step up her game if Lucious and Jamal’s war becomes bigger than her ability to steal every scene she’s in. The time has come for this show to scrape the remnants of the appetizer away and serve us the meaty main course of action, drama and jaw dropping moments.
I believe it’s all about to go down!
But getting back to Jamal. I feel like this is a turning point in the show because Jamal is beginning his transition into a formidable opponent for Lucious. Unlike his unstable younger brother Hakeem or his calculating older brother Andre, Jamal is the force to be reckoned with. He doesn’t allow his father’s homophobia to dictate how small he plays his own role. He uses it as fuel to overthrow Lucious and take the thing that he loves the most, his record company.
I feel like there are a few things that I love about Jamal’s character and a few things that feel stale and formulaic.
For example, anyone with eyes can see that Jussie is a very handsome brotha. He’s got an easygoing look about him that’s inviting and warm, especially when he smiles. Yet conversely, in those moments when he pushes back against Lucious you can see that he’s not going to just roll over and take his shit just because he’s his dad. Still, he’s not necessarily the antithesis of what a gay character would look like on television; fit, cute, light skinned. This all plays into what the perception of the gay character entails because he’s always fit and cute, or skinny and cute. And even though Jussie’s physical attributes work for this show I hope that there’s a bit more diversity moving forward in the types of gay men that get portrayed on television, especially gay men of color.
Speaking of being a man of color, I realize that his boyfriend is Hispanic (Cookie called him Mexican) but I would have loved it if Jamal’s dude could have been black as well. That last statement can sound racist, or like I’m nitpicking but the truth of the matter is that there already aren’t a whole lot of black gay characters on television as is. So for there to be one who gives me the impression that he could change the way audiences view gay characters it would be nice to see him be in a loving relationship with another brotha. I guess the victory here is that there’s a relatable black gay character on television to begin with so in this regard I can embrace Jamal’s boyfriend Michael (Rafael de la Fuente) as an honorary brotha.
The one aspect of this show I love the most is that it is unapologetic in its handling of Jamal’s homosexuality. It’s not shied away from or vaguely alluded to. And in some cases during the show it’s not addressed at all because the characters know that he’s gay. But that honestly is an encapsulation of what it means to be gay in a world where people either get it or they don’t. It’s amazing how even in 2015 people say some of the dumbest shit in regards to homosexuality. I’ve heard it all from ‘I don’t care that you’re gay. I love you anyway’ to ‘I love that you’re gay!’ which left me scratching my head because I wasn’t sure what the hell that comment was aiming for. I’ve had discussions with people about homosexuality and religion, family and society and in each of those conversations I’ve walked away feeling something. Having an open dialogue is cool, but we all know that in the world we live in this topic is still very much taboo.
The terms faggot, sissy, punk, dyke, homo and worse get used on a daily basis. But behind all of those terms lies an ignorance on the part of the person using it because their words are meant to sum up all gay people. And for Lucious, a man who is heterosexual and doesn’t understand why his son chooses to live that lifestyle, he must be staunch in his dislike and confusion towards Jamal’s homosexuality. Even Cookie, who loves her son with all of her heart, took me by surprise when she referred to him as a ‘queen’ at his apartment and then as a ‘faggot’ to Lucious at the end of the first episode. But that’s the messiness of human nature. Life isn’t meant to be PC. These terms are ugly and they hurt, but they bring out emotion. They make us think and react. Lee Daniels could have gone the soft route and used weaker words as not to offend anyone watching. But since he understands that their relationship is far too damaged at this point to pussyfoot around Daniels goes for the jugular with words and actions that seem natural and authentic in the world of Lucious and Jamal Lyon.
All this said I am rooting for Jamal because he’s the character I’ve been waiting for. He’s nobody’s victim and I believe that he will show and prove that he has what it takes to square off against his father and secure the keys to the kingdom, thus turning Lucious’ empire into his own.