“Homophobia is rampant in the African-American community, and men are on the DL. They don’t come out [and] they’re killing our women,” Lee Daniels told critics at the Television Critics Association winter previews on Saturday. “I wanted to blow the lid off of it, and of homophobia, in our community.”
Daniels was speaking about his new show Empire, which features a gay character named Jamal (played by Jussie Smollett) whose father Lucious Lyon (played by Terrence Howard) struggles with accepting his son’s sexuality.
Daniels says that the character of Lucious is partially based on his own father. When he was a boy, Daniels’ father beat him up after walking in on his young son dressed in a pair of his mother’s red pumps.
“What we’re doing is telling a little bit of the story of Lee growing up in that way,” Howard added during the panel discussion, “but it’s really a bigger part of what’s happening throughout the entire world.”
He went on to say that the show aims to tackle the issue of homophobia in the black community by offering certain viewers “an opportunity to see what they’re doing is painful. It’s crushing someone that could be beautiful.”
“[Homophobia] is so real and it is happening to so many people, has happened to so many people,” Smollett said.
One of the scenes in the pilot episode is particularly disturbing. It shows Lucious take his 4-year-old son outside and throw him in a trash can after walking in on him wearing his mother’s underwear. The scene is inspired by the event from Daniels’ childhood.
“When Lee had me take that kid down the stairs and put him in the trash can, it was with no apologies associated with it, because that’s what happened to him,” Howard explained. “The fact that he survived that is a beautiful thing.”
Empire is the only prime-time drama the featured a nearly all-black cast and was just renewed for a second season. The cast and producers say they are hopeful the show will start a trend both in the depiction of gay stories and black stories on television.
“What it shows is that people want to see people that look like them on television,” Smollett said. “They also want to see people that do not look like them on television. They want to see a representation of our world on television, and our world is not one color.”
h/t: TV Guide