‘Empire’ Co-Creator Lee Daniels: Homophobia Is ‘Killing African American Women’

TCA 2015: Fox drama’s executive producer expounds on the damage of denial

Lee Daniels didn’t mince words during the panel for the freshman Fox drama “Empire” during the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday, offering his frank thoughts on homophobia in the African American community, which he said is “killing African American women.”

Asked about the unapologetic homophobia displayed by central character Lucious Lyon (portrayed by Terrence Howard), “Empire” co-creator Daniels let loose, explaining that the seeds of Lucious’ homophobia were planted when Daniels was researching his 2009 film “Precious.”

“When I did ‘Precious’ I had to do research on AIDS in the ’80s so I went to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center in New York City, and I expected to see gay men, and there were nothing but African American women and babies with HIV. And that blew me away,” Daniels recalled.

Daniels laid the blame squarely on what he referred to as the “rampant” homophobia in the black community — specifically, the phenomenon of men secretly engaging in gay sex because of the stigma.

“Homophobia is rampant in the African American community, and men are on the DL. They don’t come out, because your priest says, your pastor says, mama says, your next-door neighbor says, your homie says, your brother says, your boss says [that homosexuality is wrong],” Daniels said. “And they are killing African American women. They are killing our women. So I wanted to blow the lid off more on homophobia in my community.”

The panel for the series also touched on diversity in television, with one reporter remarking that the TCA press tour appeared more diverse than in years past. Series star Taraji P. Henson noted that, with shows featuring diverse casts finding commercial success, the floodgates have opened.

“With the wave of successful ethnic shows that are on television right now, people want to be a part of it,” Henson said.