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.
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”.