We were already pretty excited about Lee Daniels’ forthcoming Fox drama “Empire”, set among the world of hip hop. For a start, it stars Oscar nominees Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as ex-husband and wife. Howard plays a record label CEO, and Henson has an amazing sounding part as his ex-wife Cookie. As Shadow and Act describes it, “Cookie is a “total badass” with a prison record (she served 17 years for dealing drugs, and used the money to help finance Lucious’ growing music empire, when it was still in its early days). She’s now out of prison, and has come for what’s hers!”. She sounds amazing.
But it’s also notable for going front and centre with its gay characters – a topic that has been notoriously taboo among parts of the hip hop community. Jussie Smollett plays the leading couple’s son, Jamal, described as a fledgling rapper who is also gay. This is no surprise from creator Lee Daniels, who is one of very few openly gay African American filmmakers with clout in the industry, and it’s great that he has placed such a character right in the middle of such a high profile series.
But if there were any doubts over just how deeply Fox would be prepared to go into the storylines we can expect Smollett’s character to yield, the signs are looking good with yesterday’s news that “Empire” has hired Ilene Chaiken as its showrunner. Chaiken is of course most famous as the creator of “The L Word”, and while we’re not suggesting that either she or Daniels are going to be solely occupied with gay concerns, it’s simply encouraging to have two such bold openly LGBT creatives at the head of any TV series, but particularly one like this.
Let’s face it – we could all imagine a version of a Fox hip hop series called “Empire” which sidestepped LGBT themes entirely. But this is not that show. And that makes us pretty excited.