The popularity of the Empire TV series has resulted in increasingly diverse African-American programming, according to this academic study.
Associate professor Wright (History/Univ. of Maryland Eastern Shore) specializes in analysis of entertainment-industry depictions of black life. In this work, he tells of how filmmaker Lee Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong based their hit Fox drama Empire on the lives of real-life rap stars, including Jay-Z; Shakespeare’s King Lear; the 1980s prime-time soap Dynasty; and Daniels’ own painful childhood with a homophobic father. The study goes on to address the changing image of African-Americans in film and later looks at an array of movie and TV productions by and starring black artists since Empire’s 2015 premiere. Wright posits that the success of the show, which focuses on musicians and music moguls Cookie and Lucious Lyon and their family, has created an “Empire effect” that’s resulted in “an astonishing increase in the variety of black programming.” The author also effectively demonstrates how Empire improved opportunities for black entertainment professionals, and offers context by comparing past and present black-oriented prime-time TV shows, many of which he viewed in their entirety. The book draws on popular and academic commentary on such topics as 1970s “Blaxploitation” cinema and what Wright sees as The Cosby Show’s shallow approach to social issues. The author also canvassed 100 black viewers about their perceptions of Empire, which he presents here. Throughout this work, Wright’s tone is educational but never preachy. However, some readers may be critical of the limited geographical range of the viewer data, which only comes from Connecticut, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia, ignoring the West Coast entirely. There are also copyediting issues, with “Olivia” misspelled as “Oliva” on multiple occasions. Wright also makes an error regarding a key Empire storyline, stating that Cookie got out of jail in the second season by fabricating a story about Lucious “killing” her cousin Bunkie; in fact, she only said that the two men argued.
An informative but flawed work about the Lyons’ roar.