Empire, one of the most high-profile shows in prime time, also has some of the most progressive gay scenes on TV.
I wish I could put a clip of the scene here for you. But I can point you to it.
Hip-hop has been notoriously anti-gay. Macklemore & Lewis called out the industry in the song Same Love. Artists periodically come out and state that they are not homophobic, usually after tweeting or saying something homophobic or anti-gay, or to repudiate another artist who has.
Outright support for LGBTQ people or causes…good luck finding it.
And then there is Empire, set in the world of hip-hop music. A lead character is a 20-something gay man. He kisses his boyfriend on-screen, and not just the pristine, passionless kisses we’re used to seeing. They are the same kisses we see from any other pair. His boyfriend shows up at family and social functions. He’s sometimes at odds with his sexuality and his business, because he knows what hip-hop thinks of guys like him and he’s ambitious. He’s been shown with more than one guy, so toss the the-and-only-forever character-trope out the window.
And then there was a scene that’s gotten little notice featuring hip-hop and R&B icon Ne-Yo.
Jamal, played by Jussie Smollett, is recording with Ne-Yo (playing himself). Jamal is distracted, because his father has advised he not take his girlfriend, oops, boyfriend, on tour. And he’s not singing his best, not giving a deeply passionate song the voice it needs. What does his producer and mentor Ne-Yo do? Gives him unsolicited relationship advice. He talks to Jamal about his conflict about whether or not to take his boyfriend on tour by discussing his own relationships on tour. Ne-Yo doesn’t see or refer to Jamal’s relationship as anything other than a relationship. There is no gay or straight. They are just two guys talking.
Now, I have no idea how Ne-Yo, in real life, feels about gay people. Given how much he enjoyed working – collaborating – with Smollett on multiple episodes and tracks, I think it’s safe to assume he has no professional issues with it. And in that scene, it was easy to forget that this is, in fact, a television drama, because it feels real.
That’s what Empire has managed to do. It’s taken a gay character and made him a person. Not a caricature or a stereotype. A person. He’s not an angel. He’s as flawed as any other character on the show, and as talented.
If the real hip-hop world could integrate an out gay star as well as this fictional world has, who knows what kind of talent we might hear?
Photo: courtesy FOX
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