The Emperor’s New Clothes

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Empire. Who is the real target audience? Over 60% of African American viewers tune into Fox weekly to watch the one hour drama, but by industry standards, is that really enough to catapult the show to top ratings and garner the mainstream attention and advertising dollars considered acceptable enough to renew a show for another season? Black Americans are only 12-15% of the US population, so I seriously doubt it is African American viewers alone who are securing Empire in this top spot. According to TV by the Numbers, Empire has consistently topped the ratings of Criminal Minds, The 100, and Modern Family, all competing shows airing at 9PM EST on Wednesday evening. It has the highest share of viewers ages 18-to-49.

While it is exciting to have talented Black artists grace the primetime screen of a weekly drama, are the themes of Empire “refreshing” as some has described them, or are these characters dressed in a royal suite of The Emperor’s New Clothes?

Recall that the emperor was convinced by swindlers to believe he was dressed in the finest royal clothing available, but in all honestly, he wore nothing new. In fact, he pranced around embarrassingly naked. Many African American Empire fans suggest this show presents a new perspective on the nuances of “The American Black Family”. I must ask two questions.

First, is this really what Black viewers see? Second, is exhibiting the nuances of “The American Black Family” the primary agenda of the producers and directors? I ask you which viewership is paying attention to the nuances and which viewers are focused on persistent themes of criminalistic behavior that often define Black mainstream characters and perpetuate negative stereotypes about Black Americans?

In the past two weeks alone, Entertainment Weekly has posted a minimum of 5 stories about Empire to its website. In reviewing these posts, not one story focuses on the family system dynamics of the Lyons family- unity, sacrifice, expressions of love. Yes, these themes are there if you sift through the sensational presentations of the more prevalent themes.

A story posted March 2nd to the Entertainment Weekly website reveals the true meaning of Cookie’s famous line “boo-boo kitty” translation-“bitch” to your face. In a post dated February 27th, Terrence Howard asks, “Why is TV showing something different from the reality of the world? Why is there a thing called censorship that stops people from hearing everyday talk? We use n—- every day. It’s become part of a conversation—why aren’t we using it in the show?”

Are you following me, or do you still see a “refreshing” presentation of the nuances of Black family life? Admittedly, there are Black people who use the “N” word in their conversation. Do you? Are you part of the reality of the “world” Howard is referencing? Do successful Black business owners use the “N” word daily? Do Black women regularly call another Black woman “bitch” to her face daily?

We all have indulgences. Pause for a moment and really watch Empire. Suspend your indulgence. Have you noted that this family’s success is based on their musicality? That their escape from systemic poverty and a life of crime is a result of their ability to sing, rap and entertain their way out of the ‘hood? Have you noted that the oldest brother who is college educated, but without musical talent, is not as favored as the two brothers who are musical artists? Could it be that Black families do not value education? For viewers with a negative perception of Black Americans based on racial stereotypes, Empire
provides a healthy menu of stereotypes to select from.

EW-1353-Empire_459x612_0 If watching Empire is your guilty pleasure and you are excited to tune in every Wednesday, enjoy the show. If you choose to allow you children to watch the show, be sure that you are talking with them about the messages they are seeing. Do not be like the emperor’s honest old minister. Do not be fooled by the emperor’s new clothes. For it was the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s fable that declared “But he hasn’t got anything on”.

3 Comments:

  • Kimberly
    March 12, 2015

    Ms. Adams, I agree. I was excited to see US in the PRIMETIME line up this new year. Thinking to myself, did FOX of all places get it right? Ah ha’ pretty sneaky sis. I love the energy in a show that can represent US but it will never be a one show fits all. I was additionally eager to join the shows bandwagon for so many obvious reasons; it is based out of Philly (anything in Philly is great, biased opinion), ONE of the shows producer who is also a Philly native and a man of color, finally seeing a group of actors who do have talent get a chance at primetime greatness. I have held a lot of my comments in private, soley because its not worth the water cooler argument or the family debates. I gotta pick my battles because I am always at war over something. Thanks for being a voice in my head and sharing your views. I will say I want to watch the season in it’s entirety to see if any of those loose ends I cringe at can be addressed with some moral validation. I am hopeful? I will watch with raised eyebrows and crib notes for my teenager. Keep it coming!

  • March 20, 2015

    I am not guilty for being one to have watched the show for the entire season because I wanted to see it through…Having said that, I have to agree on your comments and while I can appreciate the show in a sense of Lee Daniels employing people of color, I am terribly disappointed of the fictitious story line and the shenanigans that took place on the show. The music industry let alone how the Lyons Family operates was NOT a depiction of my/our Black Family. While I am NOT in the music industry and do NOT know first-hand how things operate on or off the scenes, I will agree that most of the story line is very unrealistic and NOT positive. One thing for certain, two things for sure, WE do NOT control what goes on in Hollywood and do NOT talk with nor hang with those that are so in my opinion as I have been saying to those that listen, it is those actors who are employed by Lee Daniels and those that break bread with him who should be held accountable and begin to have the conversations on what media images should look like on the screen…It is those individuals who are in Hollywood be it actor(s), producer(s) or director (s), etc. who MUST have conversations with those of color who are in charge to make the changes that you speak about and what we all want to see on television. Until then, a small number can choose to make a difference by NOT watching in the hopes that it will grow large enough to make a significant impact. Thanks Doc for being one of those voices!

  • Charlie
    June 20, 2015

    I agree with you that the world Mr. Howard thinks all Black people are apart of is indeed not every Black person’s world. I do not use the N-word in daily conversation nor do I refer to my fellow Black sisters as anything but their legal name. On the contrary, I do not feel the show is relaying the message that higher education is not valued in the Black family. What I believe is that higher education in this specific world, the music business, is not valued because this world is solely based on artistic talent. Yes, there is value in having someone who knows how to manage the revenue, but the musical talent is what creates the revenue.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed your post and insight into this show. Thank you!

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