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Empire’s Homophobic Story Line Was Ripped From Co-Creator Lee Daniels’ Own Childhood

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Powerhouse FOX melodrama Empire continues to exceed expectations in its first season, with ratings rising week over week to unprecedented numbers, and rave reviews from critics. The Terrence Howard-starring show follows ailing music mogul Lucious Lyon and his family’s battle for control of Empire Entertainment.

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The show tackles a series of powerful topics — including drug abuse, gangs, and homophobia. One of the show’s most poignant scenes hits close to home for series co-creator Lee Daniels. Show writer and co-creator Danny Strong told HuffPost Live he drew from Daniels’ own experiences with homophobia to write the heartwrenching Jan. 7 series premiere moment.

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Lee Daniels and Danny Strong
Creator/Writer/Executive Producers Lee Daniels and Danny Strong during the EMPIRE panel at the 2015 FOX WINTER TCA.

“I started taking autobiographical elements from Lee Daniels’ life, and started putting it into the show,” said Strong, who also worked with Daniels on Lee Daniels’ The Butler. “I didn’t tell him I was gonna do it, I didn’t tell him because I didn’t want him to say no.”

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The scene in question is a flashback, where Lucious’ gay son Jamal, as a child, enters the Lyon kitchen wearing his mother’s heels. Lucious goes off the handle, screaming homophobic slurs at the boy as he shoves him into a trash can. The incident was something Daniels, 55, experienced with his own father.

“His father, he came down, when he was eight-years-old, in high heels and a scarf to a dinner party, and his father grabbed him and threw him in the trash can, and said, ‘You’re garbage,’” revealed Strong, 40.


Strong used the harrowing story in the series’ premiere episode, something Daniels only agreed to after Strong had already written it into the script.

“It becomes this ongoing visual theme through the course of the season,” said the two-time Emmy award-winning writer (for the HBO film Game Change). “It’s just sort of become symbolic for homophobia, that sequence and how brutal it can be and how ingrained and passionate feelings can be, particularly a father to a son.”

Strong, who penned the scripts for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One and Part Two, said Daniels still empatizes with his father, despite the incident. 

“One thing that Lee said to me, when he told the story, it was very beautiful, he said, ‘I don’t even hate him for it, he was just scared I was going to end up gay, and desperately didn’t want me to be gay,’” relayed Strong. “‘And he was doing this in a weird way out of love, to prevent that from happening.’”

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