Fox’s drama Empire may be a hit with viewers, but according to one Black veteran TV writer, it’s having a negative impact on the types of scripts studios are willing to take a look at from writers of color.
Speaking anonymously in the Hollywood Reporter, the writer lamented that “the Empire effect is real — but it’s not what you might think.”
The good news: If you’re an established writer of color, you can get a pitch meeting. The bad news: Everyone in Hollywood is looking for the next Empire from every black writer — because I cannot possibly have any other idea or perspective. My creative parameters are limited to the nextScandal, Black-ish or a TV version of Straight Outta Compton.
On a good day, my representation would submit me for shows that tonally fit my writing style and not merely for shows that happen to have the prototypical “person of color” character. So, I can only write for the sassy black, sassy Latino or sassy gay friend? As a person of color, I have no choice but to consider the perspectives of others!
On a good day, I wouldn’t have to decide to ignore racist and sexist statements because I don’t want to be seen as an outsider.
While it’s completely unfair of network executives to ask Black writers to church out the next Empire or Blackish, it’s not unique. Hollywood loves a sure thing, and right now, the millions of people tuning in to Fox to watch Cookie and Lucious are making the other networks wish they had their own ratings juggernaut.
But simply replicating the drama with a different cast won’t cut it. People don’t watch Empire simply because there are Black folks on the screen. They get wrapped up in the over-the-top drama, plot twists, and Cookie’s signature wit.
Asking Black writers to come up with the next Empire is a recipe for disaster (and failure), and the sooner Hollywood allows people of color to tell more types of complex stories, not less, they’ll continue to search for the next big thing.