Spoiler Alert: In last night’s episode Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) finally came out (in song) and met a new man too! Since Empire‘s January premiere, much has been made of having a gay male character of color having such visibility on TV, living and working in the notoriously homophobic hip-hop biz. According to co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels, super-producer Tim “Timbaland” Mosley, a friend of Daniels’s who crafts the series’ original songs, wasn’t initially aware of the nature of Jamal’s storyline, and Daniels recalls some discomfort from him, initially:
“I pitched the pilot to him, and he came back with this incredible, breathtaking music in 48 hours. And soon it was time for me to show him the pilot. My instinct told me to leave when Jamal and [his boyfriend] Michael kiss, so I got up to go to the bathroom. When I came back, I knew [Timbaland] was fascinated by seeing his music in the work, but he said, ‘Those guys kissing, man. Wow.’ [The comment] could be construed negatively or positively, so I didn’t push it. I just didn’t wanna go there. Again, my instinct—or maybe my inner child or something—told me not to.”
When Timbaland’s wife and kids were brought in to to see the pilot episode, Timba asked that his kids step out of the room during the kissing scene. Daniels opted not to “get into a big discussion at the time.” Since then, Timbaland has changed his tune:
“What’s so great about this story is that it comes full circle. [Working on this show has] changed [Timbaland’s] opinion on how he feels about gays. He said it. And I remember hanging up the phone and being very emotional after talking to him, and after him telling me that. And how he really had this epiphany. It was beautiful, and it deepened our friendship.”
Maybe what happened between Daniels and Timbaland is now happening between Empire and its audience. After Jamal came out in a song his Dad, Lucious (Terence Howard) was none too pleased, it seems. But Joe Biden once said that Will & Grace did more to open America up to gay people than almost any other single thing. So, TV can be powerful catalyst for change or just an escape – or even better, both.