Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Chicago Sun-Times Writer Labels ‘Empire’ a Modern ‘Blaxploitation’ Movie

empire cast*With ever-increasing ratings and an instant green light for a second season, Fox’s “Empire” is clearly a hit.

But for Mary Mitchell, the show is more of a “modern ‘Blaxploitation’ movie” that “portrays the African-American family at its worst.”

In an opinion piece posted Monday (Jan. 26), the Chicago Sun-Times writer outlined her reasons for not being a fan of “Empire” as she mentioned the show’s family drama that involves Terrence Howard’s Lucious Lyon and his ex-wife Cookie Lyon, played by Taraji P. Henson.

Although the conflict between the two leads is “enough family drama,” Mitchell sees Lucious’ “three scheming sons” along with “homophobia, murder, gutter language and explicit sex” as something that “amounts to another reality TV show depicting black people behaving shamefully.

“In fact, “Empire” looks like a cheaper version of “Hustle & Flow,” the 2005 film about a pimp turned rapper, who also is played by Howard,” she wrote.

“I want to like Lucious, but then he’s disgustedly homophobic. I want to like Cookie because of what she’s been through, but she’s your classic back-stabber.

“These are hard-core, conniving, up-in-your-face, ballers and shot-callers, and that apparently has helped make the show a huge hit.”

Despite praising Lee Daniels for casting Howard and Henson on “Empire”, Mitchell continued her criticism by touching on a deeper issue.

“…it strikes me as odd that outside of ABC’s “Black-ish,” the comedy with Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross; most of the shows that cast African-Americans in prominent roles have them playing lowbrow characters,” she noted.

Kerry Washington started off portraying a powerful mover and shaker on ‘Scandal.’ Then the next thing you know, she’s having sex in a utility closet with the white, powerful, and married president of the United States.

Sorry, Shonda Rhimes.

“That’s just too much slave imagery for me.”

Mitchell concludes her op-ed by throwing out some food for thought as she asks “what is wrong with creating more shows on network TV that cast blacks as heroes and heroines?”

“When it comes to roles, a black actor’s choices shouldn’t boil down to acting a fool or acting like a psychopath,” she wrote.

“The support for “Empire” and shows like it reflect how desperate black viewers are for TV programming starring blacks,” continued Mitchell.

“Network producers certainly ought to take notice of that.

“Still, I can’t ignore that “Empire” is a modern “blaxploitation” movie, or that it portrays the African-American family at its worst.”

To read Mitchell’s opinion piece in its entirety, click here.  In the meantime, scroll down and leave your thoughts on Mary Mitchell and “Empire.”



  1. I have not watched Empire yet but I have heard about it from some of my co workers and they like it so, I will judge the show for myself. I agree with Ms Mitchell about some of the roles of the few black actors/actresses on TV especially Kerry in Scandal, though I like the show, she is always banging either Pres Fitz or that Jake character, Do better Kerry/Oliva Pope PLEASE!!

    • I watched the first episode and haven’t watched it since.. Really disappointed that Taraji would play this role after having made such a mainstream cross-over in her career in the last few years. Soo tired of US settling for coonish and or mediocre programming. We can’t keep saying that its white hollywood either, because we are the one’s giving bullshit shows like Love n HipHop, Real Housewives of Atlanta, etc..etc.. rating because we watch it. Then when some mediocre product like this comes along people act like it is Shakespeare in the park or something because we are starved for quality programming.

  2. That is just her opinion and her opinion is no more valuable then any one else. Of course, if she doesn’t like the show she doesn’t have to watch it. For those they do like it, and I am one of them; I’m glad the show is on.

  3. Whatever, bye. If you don’t like it, then turn on your Little House on the Prairie and Touched by an Angel episodes. This is real and if you don’t know, then you need to look at the news more often.

  4. I am so tired of black commentators or editors criticizing black tv shows. It’s a freaking TV Show with a lot of drama, character, suspense, etc… That’s what makes the show interesting. I like having a diversity of movies and TV shows to watch. I have no problem with the character Taraji is playing. I think its great that she can play several different roles & bring it when she does.
    So what who cares if Keri Washington is sleeping with the President on her show, if it was a white woman would you care? Nope, you wouldn’t. I don’t see you criticizing white shows such as Sons of Anarchy (love the show). Wake up!! It’s TV Drama that keeps you coming back to watch the next episode. Try supporting each other for a change & stop trying to RIP it apart and tear each other down. Plain and simple just turn the channel if you don’t like it or make your own Black TV show & let’s see how far it gets.

    • It is just like my mother always told me. Black people are like crabs in a bucket. Everytime one crawls up the side to get out the bucket there are many below pulling it back down be supportive of our black actors and besides I love the show it is drama filled…can’t wait to see what happens next same as I loved watching as the world turns as a young adult. If you don’t like it turn to the news oh you probably won’t like that either to much drama

  5. The who have spoken here are behind in the times… The world is evolving so catch up! Despite cops killings, the relations in the bedrooms between black and white are growing as well as character driven shows. We have fought for positive rolls or any roll for along time. If a project is creative, effective in bring awareness and entertaining why not just enjoy it. Negative rolls, villains etc… are portrayed by whites all day so why not progress. Evolve Already!!!

  6. I have watched from the first episode and have enjoyed everyone . I’m happy it was picked up for another season and i will be tuning in then as well.

  7. Mary Mitchell, I totally disagree! So, so many white shows have shown white characters in disgusting rolls, and yet a black show, and true to their blackness, is a Blaxploitation film? Give me a break! You sound like negro’s pretending, and who abhors black culture; probably like most black republicans. I know you are not proud of hip hop, and love Black-ish, because it’s white washed. Those characters are the equivalent to white actors painted over with brown and black paint. Yes they are upper middle class but so is JZ, now that he’s a multimillionaire mogul. We have smart people in the black community who happen to have come from the streets. Mainly because the playing field has been slanted against us. So your high and mighty opinion does nothing for the success of this great show. Another thing that you surely missed. The success of this show was made possible, in part, because of the hip hop culture. Since its inception, some twenty five, thirty years ago, it has become main stream. You hear it in commercials, movies and in other story lines that aren’t necessarily black. The hip hop culture has allowed for a universal language that can be understood by everyone. That is why the cross over appeal is so strong. White people can understand it. You sound like the people that had negative comments about our Olympian champion, Gabby, who won a gold medal for her performance, and some black people could only focus on her hair, I guess it wasn’t white enough for them.

  8. I don’t watch reality shows. But when Empire came out, it reminded me of Dallas. There are so many shows people were/are glued to with no problem: Dallas, Sopranos, CSI, Law & Order, State of Affairs, Sex & the City. Why be so hard on African Americans when playing “roles”.

  9. I watch Empire with eager anticipation. I waited too late to grasp Scandal so I’m not a gladiator and I feel left out. A young relative was cast in a non-speaking role and to hear him tell me he was a movie star and Empire was his show made me watch. I was hooked with the first episode. I’m happy many black actors have a job in a show that depicts the reality of this genre of music. I read Mary Mitchell, but she has a personal opinion just as any of us, coupled with her need to maintain her job with The Chicago Sun-Times. I will continue reading Mitchell’s column and I will watch Empire every Wednesday.

  10. I take this article and the person who wrote it all with a grain of salt Let’s be clear about something upfront – we don’t need unofficial gate-keepers to tell us anymore what’s appropriate or not appropriate for us (black people) to watch, support or engage. Go sit down with that BS! Who’s “checking” our white counterparts? Who’s telling them to be careful and stop exploiting themselves? Nobody. I, personally, like Empire because it’s pure entertainment TO ME. I’m intelligent to know that we’re a people that comes from all walks of life – different struggles, all kinds of abuse, many triumphants and victories. I can’t and won’t apologize, ignore or be a shame of our past and present behaviors as a people either. In most cases we did what we thought was best at that time; some where good choices and others were horrible. Drugs and abuse was very much apart of the community I grew up in, but that doesn’t define me or who i am. I grew not knowing anyone like the Huxtables, but families like the Huxtables did and still do exist. The character of Cookie & Luscious is very real to some us and that’s why 11 million people are tuning in EVERY Week. There are gay people who have experienced rejection, condemnation, abuse and even murder by their own family in the name of God or something else. What is there to exploit about that? It’s real. It happened and continues to happen. Is it because white people are watching that we should be careful? Man, please…NO ONE CAN MAKE ME FEEL BAD ABOUT WHERE I COME FROM, WHO I KNOW OR HOW I LIVE and I won’t do that to anyone else.

  11. I read her column and was so disappointed that there was no comment section. But after I thought about it there wasn’t much to say anyway. She’s entitled to her opinion. Thankfully the show is a smash hit so her opinion is the minority and will have no impact on my ability to watch my new favorite show. She can watch something else.

  12. I agree with her commentary. There really is no balance when it comes to portrayal to blacks on tv. It is always one extreme stereotype or another. When I saw Lee Daniels name attached to this show, I ran the other way. His female characters are always racheted, mean -spirited or just plain bitter. I wouldn’t compare other white shows to this simply because there has always been a diversity of shows that reflect the the lives of whites. Blacks have never had that kind of luxury, whether it’s movies or tv. The more we believe things have changed, the more they stay the same. It’s just wrapped up in a different package.

  13. What I hear in reading your comment, NYCsoul is a bit of self-loathing. White’s have always shown their stereotypes, and made for great viewing. Are you a shamed of our culture? A shamed are not, this is our culture. So happens, this is our life story, like the Huxtables, we are diverse. I suppose if we are not acting like white people then our shows are a disgrace. I think not!

    • Winfred Cook: First of all, you cannot ‘hear’ what you are ‘reading’. That makes no sense. Two, ‘self-loathing’?? I don’t know why black folks cannot simply have a civil conversation without divulging into name-calling. I do not care anything about so-called stereotypes of white people. Maybe you do. It is obvious you did not comprehend what I wrote.

      The mere fact that you could only cite ‘the huxtables’ only proves my point about the lack of diverse programming as it pertains to black people. The huxtables were 15 to 20 years ago and for your information I was never a fan of that series either. But I got the fact that there are black people who lived upper middle class lives. Look at Kanye West, example. His mother was a tenured professor! So you consider Kanye as product of black culture, but not his mother?! I am not following your line of reasoning. Why can’t there be a medium where it is not one extreme or the other? Why does it have to constitute into ‘acting like white people’?

      Third, hip hop is an art form, not a ‘culture’, nor does that art form represent black people. There is an insidious attack on black people and culture and some of us are so caught up in being ‘hip’, we can’t see when we are getting played. Mitchell’s assessment is correct. Some of these same of characters have been played out in Blaxploitation movies eons ago. Blaxploitation movies, I might add, that has been sampled and co-opted by a lot of rappers themselves. If you study pop culture, you’d understand how cues are used on groups of people to give them a sense of ‘belonging’ in the dominant culture. In otherwards, it is straight up propaganda. Black people still cannot and refuse to see when they are being played out.

    • Say it again. And we wonder why people outside of america, think that African Americans are degenerates or ignorant.

  14. The show is good. That is my opinion. I agree with most of the good things said about the show. Although I do not agree with the writer of the article and those that support what she said, the fact is you all are also entitled to your opinion. The one thing I do not like though is when other opinions try to tell me the way I think. This: “The support for “Empire” and shows like it reflect how desperate black viewers are for TV programming starring blacks,” continued Mitchell. << stop right there. I like good tv period. I am not the type to support something black because it's black. I might give props even if I don't like it. But don't always count me in. Why can't blacks just like something. Desperate? Get outta here. It's a good show and I really like it. If you want to see more variety for blacks, figure out a way to get more black tv projects out there (yes, I am limiting my comment to tv only). It's hard for us. Am I glad we finally have two good projects on tv? Heck yes. I love Empire and I love Blackish (it's hilarious). I never got into any of the Shonda Rimes shows (not without trying). I would also like more variety, but we also need more opportunities and new blood (Shonda was new; now we need some more). I believe the creators are out there, but can they get their work out there?

  15. Nobody knew who Mary Mitchell was until she started criticizing a new show on Fox TV….she’s just a hater doing ,what a hater’s job is to do”hate”

  16. I agree with a lot of her comments but right now this is all the movie/television roles that is available to black actors. Maybe we use roles like this get power to demand better. right now seems only roles are slavery, drugs, abuse, violence, sports and comedy. Seem like no positive successful roles for blacks to display to our people.

  17. This was turned on by accident by someone before I got into the house, and I had to do something and had no time to play with the TV. But in five minutes, it was obvious that this was exactly what Mitchell said – a “blaxploitation” show. It made me cringe. It is not right. As she says there are nothing but extremes when African-Americans are portrayed on TV. Especially with the backdrop context of Ferguson, this type of “blaxploitation” show is embarrassing. You would think we were back in the 1960s, rather than the 21st century. I am surprised no one else has said anything about it. It is so obvious.

  18. I can understand how Ms Mitchell feels and, I can also understand how the folks that don’t agree with miss Mitchell feel. Let me start by saying, I love my people and I am a historian so, I know (as well as most people, so, don’t get me wrong, I am not talking down to anyone), our history did not begin with slavery. WE taught the Greeks civilization and, we are the people who gave the WORLD mathematics, science, phonetics, ground breaking inventions, medicine, the religions etc. I can go on and on…. And after all we have been through as a people, with being enslaved and all that and having to deal with inequalities, adversities and fight, scrape and die to reclaim our dignity , I believe, that we are ALL hungry to see more positive images of us on the screen. And to me, all these so called reality TV shows doesn’t help. We can all say well, the white folks had Dynasty or Dallas but, they had 50 other shows BACK THEN (most of what’s on TV today is wild) that were either family oriented or, just your basic TV show whether it be comedy or drama they had a balance. So, when Dallas and Dynasty came on, you could sit there and go, ok, now it’s time to watch the juicy hard hitting trifling stuff. Where’s our 50, where’s our balance. So that’s my main issue. We have been flooded with these shows where we are fighting each other, calling each other Bitches or with a drink in our hand every other scene and what not and it just gets repetitive I’m not saying it don’t happen I’m just saying, we can use a little more balance around here. And even with whatever positive shows we have and even the other ones, do you ever notice how the black men talk like black men but most of the black women sound white. To me, it’s like scrapping your nails on a chalk board. We don’t need to sound white to speak intelligently and be ourselves.

    BUT, I also know that acting is an art and, it is about characterization and there can be a place for a show like Empire I just don’t want us to be stuck in some of these roles we play. I know for a fact, that the actors themselves want more positive roles but, the network executives run the show and as the saying goes, you do have to put food on the table. All in all, although I do have some issues with the show it is what it is,….. one crazy intense rollercoaster riding soap opera.

    We in the black community know that this show does not reflect who we truly are as a people but when we are being offered little balance in what we watch and we are pretty much being depicted in ths manner across the tube, other people who watch will think that this is the way we truly act and any respect we fought to regain can be lost…………… Sorry for bending your eyes and ears, thanks for your patience with me………..Hotep and peace…………

  19. Hi I’m Alfreda I really don’t know Mary Mitchell is. There’s rumors saying shes a hater. Once she look at a couple of the shows of “Empire” Mary will realize that the show is a positive one. Most african americans would love to live a life like the folks on Empire.Check the show our Mary Mitchell you will love. I’m hoping to get a spot sas an extra or permanent part. Why because I love at show/Empire.

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