‘Empire’ Co-Creator: ‘Attacking Homophobia’ Was My Agenda

"Everyone wanted it,” Strong says matter-of-factly. He knows that might sound surprising—until he explains more. “Well, look, we pitched the show the week after The Butler was the No. 1 movie in the country, so the timing was pretty good.” But not just because of The Butler. “Scandal was a huge hit. Also, cable was killing the networks ratings-wise. People just felt open to something that felt new and original.”

A soap opera about a hip-hop record label owner battling ALS with a gay son struggling to come out, a son with bipolar disorder, and another who is dating a fashion designer played by Naomi Campbell certainly fit that bill. But also new and original, and certainly keeping with the philosophy preached by Shonda Rhimes’s dramas, was that TV shows should say something important, and have a social message. And Strong knew he wanted to do that with the gay son character, Jamal, played by Jussie Smollett.

“Attacking homophobia was in my original pitch to Lee,” he says. “Where I said the hip-hop mogul is going to have a gay son who is incredibly talented who should be the one who takes over the empire, but he hates him because he’s gay. And unflinchingly attack homophobia in this mainstream piece of material.” Read More