An informative but flawed work about the Lyons’ roar.



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.

Pub Date: May 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4766-7367-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: McFarland

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2018

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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