Does 'Empire' Reflect Badly on the Black Community? Lee Daniels Weighs In

by Raphael Chestang 5:41 PM PDT, April 08, 2015
Playing Does 'Empire' Reflect Badly on the Black Community? Lee Daniels Weighs In

PBS host Tavis Smiley recently questioned whether Fox's critical and blockbuster hit Empire showed "the worst of every pathology that black people have." ET was with Empire co-creator Lee Daniels on Wednesday for his reaction to Smiley's remarks.

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"Everyone's entitled to their opinion," Daniels told ET at the Hollywood Radio & Television Society's Hitmakers luncheon. "I adore Mr. Smiley. I think he's a very smart man."

Smiley's comments came during an interview on PoliticKING with Larry King.

"There's a debate in the black community that hasn't really surfaced, hasn't really boiled to the top yet, but I hear it in barber shops and other places, Larry, about whether or not the problem with Empire is that it advances the worst of every pathology that black people have," Smiley said. "Crime, and drug dealing, and this and that, and the other, so I think a lot of people are looking for some positive characters that may come out in the second season."

Daniels defended his show, pointing to the astronomical ratings (the finale attracted 23.1 million viewers when DVR numbers are factored in) as proof that more people are behind the show than against it.

"America -- and black America -- has spoken," Daniels said.

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The executive producer even drew parallels between the fictional Lyon family at the center of Empire and the Kennedys, one of America's most celebrated political families.

"This is the American dream," Daniels said. "This is no different than what Joe Kennedy did when he came over here with the Kennedys. And the idea that black people should be any different from white people says that we're different. We're the same."

There is a persisting rumor that the Kennedy patriarch made his fortune by bootlegging.

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Daniels went on to imply that to cut out the faults of his Empire characters might ring false.

"I think that people are people and I explore -- in all of my work -- the human condition," Daniels said. "Nobody's perfect and I think that's what I'm trying to get across with Empire."