‘Empire’ writer reveals why show took on police brutality
***Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers from Season 3, Episode 2 of ‘Empire,’ which aired September 28th on FOX.***
Empire has a reputation for showing the ‘over-the-top’ glitz and glamour of the music business. This week’s episode, however, went a deliberately more serious route by touching on police brutality.
While the Lyon family copes with tragic loss and change, the eldest brother, Andre, gets another dose of heartbreak in the form of injustice.
At the very end of the episode, Andre Lyon is confronted by police officers as he leaves the house he shared with his late wife Rhonda. Two officers question him aggressively about break-ins in the neighborhood, and when the confrontation gets heated, Andre ends up face-down on the ground in handcuffs.
It’s a scenario that sounds all too familiar in an era where stories of combative and excessive police encounters have become regular and increasingly viral.
Empire writer and award-winning producer Carlito Rodriguez says this instance of art imitating life was easy.
“Our writer’s room is predominantly black, and so of course we start talking about the things that affect us … race … class … gender,” Rodriguez told theGrio.
Rodriguez says the writers wanted to address the issue of police brutality as far back as Season 2 but looked for a natural opening in the plot first.
In trading personal stories with Lee Daniels, they saw an opportunity to develop a deeper story, beyond one episode.
“Who do we think feels the most immune to being challenged on race and class? And the obvious answer is Andre,” Rodriguez said. “He’s buttoned-up. He looks down on what the family business trafficked in… But this is the dude who hid guns in Legos. So how is that little guy going to be affected by something like this? This becomes his fork in the road.”
For Rodriguez, a Bronx native, his personal experiences and previous work as a journalist have shown him a need to bring serious issues to the forefront on television, even in a fun melodrama like Empire.
“In my lifetime, getting a gun pulled on me became a normal thing,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not saying that to sound like a tough guy; that’s just the neighborhood I grew up in […] Those interactions with law enforcement became so routine… But we normalize abnormal sh*t.”