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‘Empire’ Tackles Black Lives Matter, Police Brutality

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched “Empire” Season 3, episode two, which aired Wednesday, Sept. 28 on Fox.

Empire” has been credited as the new “Dynasty” — an over-the-top primetime soap opera that packs in juicy storylines, glitzy clothes, expensive taste, and loud characters. But tonight, the top-rated Fox hit used its platform to spread the Black Lives Matter movement to its millions of viewers.

The final scene of Wednesday’s episode features the oldest Lyon brother, Andre (Trai Byers), getting attacked by police during a situation in which he was not doing anything apparently wrong. Andre, who is African-American, is walking outside of his old home in New York City, moving boxes, when two white police officers go ballistic and pin him down. And that’s when the episode cuts to black.

The scene clearly draws parallels to news of police brutality, following the most recent headlines made in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Asked by Variety what inspired Andre’s storyline, “Empire” showrunner Ilene Chaiken revealed that the show’s writers have been wanting to include a plot line regarding police abuse since season two, but the time was never organically right for the characters.

“There are a couple of ways in which that moment came about. Thematically, it was a convergence of ideas and themes,” Chaiken said. “We talked about telling a story like that in season two  — a story about what’s going on in the world, a story about profiling, a story about race and police. The ‘Empire‘ writers very much wanted to write about it.”

She continued: “To us, it’s really story, it’s character, it’s a thing that happened to a person. It’s not a social statement. When we find the story, that’s when it becomes real for us. I believe that there will be more that reflects the world and those particular themes that we’re talking about. I think it’s very much a template for us. But it’s not in a ripped-from-the-headlines kind of way.”

The inspiration behind Wednesday night’s scene came from co-creator Lee Daniels.

“Lee really wanted us to write about it, and he told us some personal stories that I won’t repeat because they’re his personal stories, but he was talking about his own life and things that were meaningful to him, and this great conversation took place and we came to this story,” Chaiken said.

When determining which character would be at the center of the racial-profiling narrative, Chaiken said it came down to Andre because the incident fits into his storyline, which in last week’s premiere saw the death of his wife, Rhonda.

“We talked about which son it would be and what really felt like the most powerful way to take on these themes. We came to the idea that it would be Andre because it plays into the story that we knew we wanted to tell with Andre in a really interesting way,” Chaiken said, adding that the Black Lives Matter storyline will continue to progress in next week’s episode.

“You’ll see in episode three that it takes a further turn,” Chaiken revealed. “The incident itself and the experience profoundly affects Andre and the direction of his life, and changes the way that he views his place in the world.”

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