Empire has always been a series that tackles social issues head on, from race to homophobia. So it’s fitting that the series would choose this year to address police violence against black men and the Black Lives Matter movement after a summer of countless tragic shootings.
In the second episode of season 3, due to various circumstances we can’t reveal, Andre Lyon (Trai Byers) will find himself racially profiled by the police. “Andre’s story is the story about Andre becoming woke — connecting to his blackness in a way he hasn’t before,” says executive producer Ilene Chaiken.
Adds Byers, “It’s a sensitive subject especially because I’m a black man. I have a black brother. My nephews just came to visit me and looking at them and thinking this is the world that they’re going to grow up in. It’s important that we tell these stories. But it’s also important I think, for this story to be a part of the collective conversation.”
Co-creator Lee Daniels doesn’t go into specifics but says that Andre’s storyline was very much inspired by something that happened to his own son. “I came into the writer’s room in the every beginning, and said these are the issues I want to talk about,” says Daniels. “This is what is going on in my head right now and this is what is affecting with my family. And we act out what was happening with my son through Andre.”
The topic is something the creative team has been discussing since season 2, says co-creator Danny Strong. “It always felt like we were jamming it in as opposed to making it an organic part of the plot,” admits Strong. “Then the way it was broken in season 3 made it a really great part of the story. We don’t want to address social issues to just be preachy. We want it to be in the fabric of the story. I thought it was really smart. Now I think it’s going to be a really cool storyline, really resonant and about what’s happening right now.”
Empire premieres Sept. 21 at 9 p.m. on Fox.