TV is Finally Tackling the Intersection of Race and Class

Lucious (Terrence Howard, third from right) toasts his family in the "Devil Quotes Scripture" episode of "Empire" on Fox. (Chuck Hodes/Fox)
Lucious (Terrence Howard, third from right) toasts his family in the “Devil Quotes Scripture” episode of “Empire” on Fox. (Chuck Hodes/Fox)

(The Washington Post) – One of the many reasons to hope for more diverse pop culture is that in a world with more than one television show about families of color, or movies by many female directors, no single piece of art has to stand in for everyone’s experiences. The Lyons on “Empire” can stand on their own as a Lee Daniels fever dream, rather than being required to represent all black families everywhere. “Scandal” main character Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) can be her specifically corrupted self, rather than having to tell all stories about what it means to be a female power broker in Washington. And the rise of African American family shows in recent years means that television is suddenly rich with conversations about the intersection of race and class.

“Empire,” Fox’s smash hit about a family’s struggle for control of a major media company, often plays with the tension between what constitutes authenticity, and the privileges and presentation that come from wealth and power.

“There’s a lot of reversals inherent in ‘Empire’ because Cookie disdains Anika for being bougie, for being privileged,” showrunner Ilene Chaiken said of the two women at the center of the series, Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson), the first wife of mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), and Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey), Cookie’s successor. “Although Anika professed to own it, how did she describe herself, ‘A bougie ho that can slit your throat without disturbing her pearls,’ the sense, really, is that if there’s anything to be ashamed of, it’s being bougie. The value is being authentically street.”


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