Television audiences are looking for diversity onscreen, if “Empire’s” ratings are any indication (along with the success this season of “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Black-ish”).
“Shows with people of color can make money,” said star Taraji P. Henson, during the hip-hop drama’s panel at the Television Critics Assn. press tour on Saturday, hours after the Fox show earned an early second-season renewal. “With the wave of successful ethnic shows that are on television, people want to be part of it.”
Star Terrence Howard said the reason for the show’s success is simple: “This is the culture of America. We’re showing real life.”
Jussie Smollett, who plays Henson and Howard’s gay son on Fox’s mega-hit, agreed with his onscreen father, who neglects him on the show because of his sexuality. “[People] want to see a representation of our world on television, and our world is not one color,” he said.
Howard admitted that it’s tough for him to play such a close-minded character but added that he’s honored for the opportunity to make an impact on those who are still not accepting, which was a top priority for creator Lee Daniels.
“Homophobia is rampant in the African-American community,” said Daniels. “I wanted to blow the lid off the door of homophobia.”
Showrunner Ilene Chaiken, who assembled a diverse writers’ room to help lend authenticity to the storytelling, says she welcomes any changes the show has on the culture.
“If ‘Empire’ influences anybody, fabulous,” Chaiken told Variety. “I hope that nobody needs to be influenced — it’s just obvious that this is how we should make television. This is how we should make entertainment. It’s more of a ‘why not?’ than a ‘why.'”