‘Empire’ confronts racial inequalities

By Managing Editor

Fox’s latest ratings phenomenon, “Empire,” continued its streak of drawing massive audiences during its Sept. 23 season 2 premiere. According to Nielsen, more than 16 million viewers tuned in to catch the latest drama of Cookie and the rest of the Lyon family.

In stark contrast to the show’s softer first season’s opening, which featured an emotional studio session with the fictional record label’s newest R&B crooner, the show’s second season started with a bang. 

Fully aware of the massive reach the record-breaking show would attract, the show’s creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong used its appeal to highlight the #BlackLivesMatter movement currently affecting the country.

“Did you know there are 1.68 million black men being held in a mass incarceration in America’s prison system today, right now,” shouts hip-hop artist Swizz Beatz in the episode’s opening lines to a crowd of enraged protesters.

The scene is reminiscent both in language and imagery to recent events in Baltimore and Ferguson.

Then, Cookie emerges onto the scene, dressed in a gorilla suit addressing the crowd from within an iron cage.

“How much longer are they gonna treat us like this?” she roared. “The American correctional system is built on the backs of our brothers, our fathers, our sons…. [We want] not justice for some, but justice for all.”

Not surprisingly, it did not take long before people took to social media, posting on Facebook and Twitter to criticize the show for touching on the subject, completely missing the point and arguing that “#PoliceLivesMatter” and “#AllLivesMatter.”

While it’s true the dramatic opening might not be the most accurate portrayal of today’s movement advocating for the black community—the real-life victims of police brutality and other acts of discrimination have been swapped for the character of Lucious Lyon, a killing machine who is indeed guilty—abusers of the hashtags highlight the hypocrisy of many in today’s society.

Viewers have no problems consuming black entertainment, enjoying black culture through TV, food, music and more but clearly show little concern for the black community’s rights as human beings and could care less about addressing the issues that most affect black Americans.

The deluge of negative reactions to the show’s addressing of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, when put into conversation with its sky-high ratings, highlights a larger issue that reaches beyond the “Empire” series.

Black entertainment—not just TV—continues to set trends and is enjoyed by a majority of the population. Some of today’s most popular shows, including “Scandal,” “Black-ish” and “Cristela” feature strong black lead characters or are composed by black writers and producers.

Additionally, black people shape many of today’s musical trends—most of the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10 tracks are from black artists.

If people are to continue enjoying and benefiting from the contributions black people bring to their everyday lives, they must start recognizing the community as equal and fight for black rights.