This story about Courtney Kemp first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Courtney Kemp started Season 4 of her show, “Power,” exactly where she likes to be: without many options. The Starz hit ended its third season with Omari Hardwick’s lead character, the New York club owner and drug dealer James “Ghost” St. Patrick, arrested for murder by his girlfriend, FBI agent Angela Valdes (Lela Loren) — a situation that didn’t offer many escape hatches for an unrepentant gangster.
“We wrote ourselves into a corner at the end of Season 3,” Kemp said. “I always like to write myself into a corner. I think the best stuff comes from only having a few ways out.”
One key was that Kemp insisted that Ghost had to be arrested for one of the few crimes he didn’t commit. “It was a big debate in the writers room,” she said. “Should he be arrested for something he did do, or something he didn’t do? And I, of course, prevailed. I said the audience would only be invested if he was arrested for something he did not do. He is a real criminal, so if you ask the question, ‘What is he truly innocent of?’ then you’ve got a nice sandwich for the audience.
“And you can zero in on the horror of being arrested by the woman of your dreams, the horror of having to arrest the man of your dreams, and how everyone’s life disintegrates, because Ghost is the tree trunk that holds this whole world together.”
Kemp is a Connecticut native who originally wanted to be a journalist reporting on the entertainment industry or the first African-American editor-in-chief of Vogue. She wound up writing for a variety of TV shows — “The Bernie Mac Show,” “Eli Stone,” “Justice,” “The Good Wife” and others — before selling “Power” to Starz.
“They’d hire everybody,” she said, “and then they’d go, ‘Oh, we need a woman. And we need a person of color. Great, we’ll hire Courtney!’ That happened to me all the time, that I was a two-fer.”
The experience has left her only partially convinced that the recent strides toward a more inclusive industry will bring real change. “I don’t know if it’s possible for the industry to be fairer and more inclusive going forward,” she said. “Consider me a bit of a skeptic. I think this is a great moment, and I hope we can make real inroads. But prior to now, change has come because of clear financial decisions.
“‘Power’ would never have gotten on the air if the folks at Starz weren’t saying to themselves, ‘This is an underserved audience.’ It was a financial decision, not a benevolent decision based on a need to change the industry.
“People are realizing that there is a financial consequence to not opening doors. It doesn’t mean that they are any more inclusive in their hearts, it means they’re more inclusive in their wallets.”
Read more of TheWrap Emmy magazine’s The Race Begins issue here.