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Empire was created by two out writers (Lee Daniels and Danny Strong) and boasts showrunner Ilene Chaiken, so it’s no wonder this show is both super soapy and super queer. Tonight’s episode, “Dangerous Bonds,” shows that young pop star Tiana (Serayah) is interested not only in men like Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray), but also in women like India (played by Elizabeth Whitson).I like it when TV surprises. I'm surprised so rarely these days.
...“Well you know the world of Empire is a world that absolutely tackles homophobia,” he said. “It’s one of the key concepts of the show,” Danny said. “So exploring that in non-male i.e. female, i.e. lesbian relationships, that’s part of the world of Empire.” ~ Trish Bendix, After Ellen
When I first started watching Empire I could not stand the character of Tiana. She was the accurate portrayal of the auto-tuned popstar who lacks talent but is young, and pretty, and skinny, and conveniently not too dark.
When she pursues Hakeem Lyon (offering him sex before he even learns her last name) because she realizes he's an up and coming rapper and spoiled rich guy, I promptly added "gold-digger" to her list of grievances. The kids start calling them "Takeem" and they become the new It Couple overnight.
*cue stomach churning*
I noticed that whenever Tiana visits Hakeem's family with him, she finds every possible excuse to sit on his lap, straddle him, make out with him - I mean, who does that a potential in-law's house???
She also doesn't flinch when she finds out Hakeem is sleeping with an older woman on the side (Camilla, portrayed by Naomi Campbell for reasons we've yet to figure out). She flat-out states she's "cool with that" and warns him not to screw-up their live performance together. Hakeem is elated that Tiana doesn't care about "that other girl", but while he childishly and naively thought he'd struck gold, I was busy tacking "cutthroat" and "opportunistic" to her list of crimes.
But then...we notice that while Tiana is publicly amorous and supportive of Hakeem, flashing the charming smile and saying all the right things to reporters, in private she can't wait to call it a night early and go home. At first, I thought it was because she was strictly using the guy "just cuz" and didn't want to spend time with him unless there were paparazzi to witness and record.
And that's when it's revealed Hakeem is most likely Tiana's beard, because when the spotlight's gone, Tiana simply wants to go home and snuggle with her girlfriend India Spring.
Now, the moment this was revealed, not only did Tiana become instantly less annoying but also a lot more understandable. To be clear, I am not down with her methods to achieve fame and fortune, but I do get where Lee Daniels and Danny Strong are going with this character.
One reason this twist is so valuable is that is reveals the hypocrisy of Lucious Lyon's homophobia: he likes the idea of Tiana having a girlfriend and encourages his son to stay with her, because in his mind it's like having an extra girlfriend. He refers to it as "trigonometry" (WTF?) and a "mathematician's dream" (Anybody else need a drink?).
Anyways...another reason I like the lesbian aspect of Tiana is that it empowers her. When Hakeem confronts Tiana about her relationship with India, she tells him not to scream at her and cuts him to the quick with, "You've got a side-piece too." Unlike the other, older women on the show who've helplessly put up with being divorced for younger women or flat-out cheated on, Tiana represents a newer breed of womanhood who don't play that.
Because of Hakeem's ego and juvenile, selfish nature, I'm praying she's not bisexual, but full-on, no apologies, Hakeem-is-just-a-stepping-stone lesbian. I don't want any emotional loopholes or rope-a-dope games to give credence to an actual love triangle (or square, since Camilla's in the mix).
And since career is so important to her, I understand Tiana's by-any-means necessary attitude to get ahead. It reminds me of a video I watched in which lesbian actress Sara Gilbert discussed coming to terms with her sexuality, and then later wondering if being out was limiting her career in some way. Because for marginalized people who achieve any measure of success, there's always this gnawing, nagging voice in the back of our heads which repeatedly asks, If you weren't "you", couldn't you have achieved more?
Some commenters have accused Lee Daniels of pandering by showing two young women who appeal to heterosexual men and then having Lucious tease his son about a possible threesome. If Lee is trying to do what I think he's trying to do, then 1) he will explore the struggles women like Tiana face in the industry, and 2) that threesome will never happen (gods willing).