Cookie Lyon is the African-American mother every black and gay child needs.
The first season of Fox's new show "Empire" is being touted as a modern-day "Dynasty." The network is celebrating because the show's viewers
increase each week, which is quite unusual. I love the show so I think it all
"Empire" is full of
compelling dramatic scenarios, but the most moving story line (to me) is the one of black gay son and his father's attempt to deny him his place in the
Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that the African-American
community has been one of the most resistant to embracing the progress being
made by the gay community. Having seen this resistance all of my life, even
within the walls of my childhood home, I'd say that most of the resistance
comes from religious practices and beliefs. Within the black community, there
is an unbreakable faith in Jesus and the tenets of Christianity. And according
to all but the most progressive Christian doctrine, being gay or lying with a
person of the same sex is a sin and abomination against God. These beliefs are
held deeply and widely within the black community still today.
of what goes on in African-American families is beyond brilliant. The creator
of the show, Lee Daniels, a free gay man ("free" meaning that he is out in the
open and not enslaved by cultural views) has gone directly into homes and
bedrooms of many African-Americans to tell our dirty secrets and shine light on
our shame. And he is doing so beautifully with pure entertainment.
My desire is that Daniels will continue to challenge the African-American community to see that no one deserves to be thrown away and that all our children have great value. Gay lives matter.
The most poignant scene is one they've revisited throughout
the season. In it, the son Jamal (played by Jussie Smollet), is a very young
boy when he sashays into the living room, wearing his mother's shoes and a head
scarf. Lucious, the father (played by Terrence Howard), is so angered by this
that he picks the child up, takes him outdoors, and dumps him in the garbage.
Cookie, the mother (played by Taraji P. Henson), runs after her son and retrieves
him. Holding her son tightly in her arms to protect him, Cookie then begins
cursing and kicking her husband for being so cruel to their son. Wow.
In a recent interview
with Vogue, Henson was asked about
Your character's relationship with her gay son, Jamal, is really beautiful.
When Cookie defends him so passionately from his rejecting dad, where did those
emotions come from?
A: Once a mother; always a mother. I'm a mother
in real life, so I don't have to act. When it's time to protect our child, as
parents, we feel our kid's pain harder than they do. I tried to explain that to
my son. The closest he came to understanding was through his relationship with
our dog. He said, I feel that way about Willy. We carry them for nine months. I
could only imagine having a child that a father rejects.
I feel like Lucious rejects him out of fear.
When he puts Jamal in the trash can, he wanted to throw him away before the
world threw him away. He wanted to hide his son from everyone—the ugliness of
being a black gay male to the world. Fear will do anything, and Cookie
understands the pain on both sides. Cookie is never going to hate her child for
being who he is, but she fears for his life, too, because he's gay and black.
In reality, I have never seen a mother of a gay child be so
fierce in loving and protecting her child. Personally, I have seen the denial
and rejection that continues to exist today. But that's not to say that that
mother doesn't exist out there somewhere. Fox, Lee Daniels, and "Empire" are serving to shine a light on
the bigotry that still occurs within the African-American community today.
as gay people are making great political and social strides, the religious
influences continue to have a stranglehold on some of us. It is my hope that
seeing the mother's unconditional love and protection for her son might help my
community see itself more clearly. My desire is that Daniels will continue to
challenge the African-American community to see that no one deserves to be
thrown away and that all our children have great value. Gay lives matter.