Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag
And, I would venture to say we all know what opinions are like, because everyone has one.
However, what annoys me most about critics of the hit TV show, “Empire,” is that much of the criticism has been coming from people who, just yesterday, had been expressing their concerns about Hollywood not having enough black faces in the mix, be it on television, or the big screen.
Personally, I’ve seen “Empire,” as being the best thing since ice cream, mainly because of the real story it has told about some of the events, and occurrences, which can be affiliated with the music arena. And, I have written, on more than one occasion, that the story, in my opinion, has been loosely based on a company called Platinum Records, which once brought pride to Englewood, NJ. The founder of the company had been a feisty, talented recording artist named Sylvia Robinson. Only dinosaurs may remember when she recorded, as part of a group called “Mickey and Sylvia.” And, that was my first impression of the well-written, well-directed TV show.
However, I also think “Empire” could have been based on the story behind the first black record label, which was established in Harlem, in 1921. It was called Black Swan. One of the most notable artists the label produced was Ethel Waters.
Or, who is to say the story was not based on the husband and wife team of Vivian Carter and James Bracken, who, with $500 they borrowed, founded a record label called Vee-Jay Records. The label had been named using the first letter from both their names. At the time, it had seemed more than ironic that a black-owned company had been tapped to release the Beatles’ first hit.
That’s just some food for thought, for the critics who have been clueless about the inner-most workings of the recording industry, and for those who may see the fictional “Empire” story as negative.
Many of the critics, particularity those from the world of academia, have claimed they have been concerned with the images which have been portrayed on the show, and the way they have tainted the image of black folks. Come on, folks, get a grip on REALITY. Maybe I have seen too much in my lifetime, but, in this life, there have been LOTS of “Luciouses.” I can also name many “Cookies.” And, I can also find brothers who sing on every street corner.
In this life, folks, there HAVE BEEN black gangsters. Rochester has had a few of its own. Who, besides me, remembers its members attempts to establish a real-life, “black mafia” in Rochester? Who remembers when there had been black men who were tired of Italians owning a monopoly on the juke boxes, pool tables, and cigarette machines in local, black-owned establishments?
I’ve seen the “Empire” story as touching on some of the real things that truly have happened in our world. And, some of those things have not necessarily been discussed out loud, but people who have been exposed to the streets, and who are street smart, know that Lee Daniels may possibly be on point.
There has always been a certain amount of drama that has been affiliated with the music industry. Who knows why Sam Cooke was really killed? In addition, there had also been a long-standing rumor that Teddy Pendergrass was shot by Harold Melvin because he chose to have a solo career, instead of staying with the Blue Notes. No one has ever been arrested, or charged with the crime, but it was a serious rumor on the streets at the time.
In addition, who’s to say Barry Gordy, of Motown Fame; Stax Records (not black-owned but one which promoted black artists) in Memphis, Tenn.; The Philly Sound; and Fame Records, in Muscle Shoals, Ala. did not have the same humble beginnings as the fictional “Empire” label?
Is it not possible that the polish founder, and owner, of Cadillac Records had some of the same experiences in trying to establish his own record label? How can we ignore the fact that many of the people we’ve called “gangsters,” have been the ones who’ve developed our great nation?
And, who among us has not heard the rumor that the Kennedy fortune was built by selling bootlegged scotch during the Prohibition era?
In light of these things, I ask, how has the character of Lucious Lyon, and his image, possibly “tainted” the image of black folks in America? He has represented a culture many people want to pretend does not exist.
However, he is not a hero of mine. And I am not applauding the fact that he has depicted taking lives. But, I do not have my head in the sand either. There’s been no denying that, in the world of music, people have been killed. In addition, the drug culture, in modern times, seems to have produced the stats that can attest to the senseless violence and killings.
There’s also been the fact that black-on-black crime seems to have been reported more often than other crimes.
This does not make any of it right, but it does make it real.
“The Wire,” in my opinion, was another reality-based show with a story line that represented real life on the street, as well as law-abusing cops, and corrupt politicians. Has this not been LIFE? I had not seen the character of “Stringer Bell” as an example of a persona which was tainting the image of black folks. I had seen him as a drug lord, and, with all the drugs that have been sold in our ‘hood, there have been DRUG LORDS and KING PINS at the helm.
Our prisons, and penitentiaries, have not just housed low-level drug dealers. The big boys and girls have resided in the federal pens. They have been the ones with the boats and planes, and the resources to bring it in.
They exist. Did Denzel Washington not help to enlighten folks when he starred in “American Gangster?” These folks have been REAL. No one has made them up.
“Empire” is well-written. And, Lee Daniels, regardless of what the critics have said, I would like to applaud you for the opportunities you have given to those individuals who have directed various episodes. Directors such as Debbie Allen, Michael Engler, Sanaa Hamri, Rob Hardy, Anthony Hemingway, Rosemary Rodriquez, John Singleton, Danny Strong, and Mario Van Peebles, to name a few.
And, reportedly, there also have been many records broken by folks tuning in to watch “Empire.”
So, why the critics have wasted time trying to throw shade on a winner is beyond me. I have found nothing legitimate in their arguments. The sheer number of people tuning in to watch the show should leave the critics’ concerns, and arguments, null and void.
Lee Daniels, and company, I repeat, JOB WELL DONE, and, with a STELLAR cast as well.
Maybe the negative critics have been jealous because they have not been a part of “Empire’s” success. However, I am sure there have been more people watching your show, than there have been reading the criticism. And, now that they have all have spoken, it is time for them to go somewhere, sit down, and wait for the next season. It is coming, whether they like it or not. Everybody loves a winner!