At last night’s premiere of the Fox drama Empire, creator Lee Daniels prefaced the event with a touching speech for the crowd in attendance.
“Dreams come true, you know,” the Precious filmmaker said at the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood. “I would have never thought in a million years that I’d be here in Hollywood doing film, let alone television. … They’re crazy to let me on TV!”
Daniels, who grew up in the projects in Philadelphia, is the executive producer of Empire alongside Brian Grazer (24, Arrested Development) and Danny Strong, who previously collaborated with the gay director on his film Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Empire is Daniels’s first venture into television, and many aspects of the show are rooted in his life experiences.
The musical drama focuses on the family of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), a former drug dealer who rose to become a music mogul. Confronted with health problems, Lyon is forced to choose which of his three sons will be the heir to his company.
Homophobia sets up one of the central conflicts of Empire, as Lyon is blinded to the abilities of his most musically talented son, Jamal (Jussie Smollett), because Jamal is gay. Flashbacks to Jamal’s childhood in the pilot reveal frightening confrontations between father and son, such as when Jamal wore his mother’s heels in front of company and Lyon reacted by shoving him into a garbage can.
Each episode of Empire features original music created by the rapper Timbaland, and one of the highlight tracks from the pilot is a song sung by Jamal about seeking acceptance from his father. The performance is heard by Jamal’s mother, Cookie (Taraji Henson), who sets to become her gay son’s champion in winning his father's respect and inheritance.
“This has been a journey,” Daniels concluded. “There’s been ups and downs. Some goods and some bads. But it’s been a magical journey for me, and I’ve learned as an artist. It’s really made me a better director. I hope you all enjoy it!”
Empire premieres tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern on Fox. Watch the trailer below.