Lee Daniels Discusses Homophobic Audience Reaction To Gay Kissing On ‘Empire': WATCH


Writer, director and producer Lee Daniels recently talked about watching focus groups react to same-sex kissing on his new show, Empire. Daniels referred to the dial technology used by focus groups to give instant feedback as to whether they love or hate something. When viewers love something they turn their dials up to a ten, whereas when they hate it they turn to zero. So how did the majority of those in the focus group first react to a gay kiss on Empire?

They’re at a ten until the two men kiss. So at the end the questioner asks, 'why is it a zero when two men kiss?' And you knew that the hundred people in the room — a hundred people in the room, most of them, 90 percent, 95 percent of them were heterosexual — didn’t want to admit to their homophobia so they just sort of look at the floor—it’s like not admitting to be a racist…'But can you tell me why you’re at a zero? Why do you go from a ten to a zero?' Because it’s unaccepted. I think that it’s slowly becoming a thing because we are making it a thing. It is the civil rights of our time right now and I think we have to not back down.

Watch the interview, AFTER THE JUMP…

And you can watch Empire Wednesdays at 9 PM ET/PT on Fox.


  1. ryan conrad says

    Please stop lumping race issues into LGB issues. It’s bad enough we have to deal with trannies. This “I can’t breathe” liberal PC nonsense about why black people are oh so fragile and important is tiresome. Enough is enough.

  2. ryan conrad says

    Please stop lumping race issues into LGB issues. It’s bad enough we have to deal with trannies. This “I can’t breathe” liberal PC nonsense about why black people are oh so fragile and important is tiresome. Enough is enough.

  3. ryan conrad says

    Please stop lumping race issues into LGB issues. It’s bad enough we have to deal with trannies. This “I can’t breathe” liberal PC nonsense about why black people are oh so fragile and important is tiresome. Enough is enough.

  4. ryan conrad says

    Please stop lumping race issues into LGB issues. It’s bad enough we have to deal with trannies. This “I can’t breathe” liberal PC nonsense about why black people are oh so fragile and important is tiresome. Enough is enough.

  5. ryan conrad says

    Please stop lumping race issues into LGB issues. It’s bad enough we have to deal with trannies. This “I can’t breathe” liberal PC nonsense about why black people are oh so fragile and important is tiresome. Enough is enough.

  6. Paul R says

    The only problem is that Empire is laughably bad. The intimation that it will break down black homophobia would be more convincing if the show weren’t pure (bad) camp.

    Every character is a stereotype, none of them redeeming or especially interesting.

  7. arlene chandler says

    I don’t like this focus-group testing of TV shows. It’s a form of pandering to bigots. If you’re a true artist, you don’t design your work of art according to whether people like it or hate it. You just go ahead and make something that’s yours.

    As to who in the focus group rated the homosexual part a zero? Probably lots of women. I note Lee Daniels fails to mention this “w” word. Why doesn’t he mention that it’s women who gave it zero?

  8. Craig David says

    @ Ryan Conrad: How about this…Take your racist KKKracker liberal-hating a** out to the trash can where all the other f*gg*t white male republicans belong!

  9. james says

    Let’s not read too much into the “dial” judgements of a focus group. If you’ve ever done a focus group, you know that audience reactions have to be carefully analyzed. In this case, the “zero” is most likely a visceral and most likely fleeting reaction, but a reaction that is easily overcome by the audience member. In other words, as a gay man, if I’m watching Sex and the City and the infamous female ejaculation scene comes on, my first reaction might be a big, fat zero on that dial. But I certainly wouldn’t stop watching the show, nor am I a woman hater. It’s like a lie detector — they measure immediate stress, nothing more.

    Now, the problem is that TV execs are stupid, cowardly buffoons, who will not only misinterpret, but run scared based on those misinterpretations.

  10. Kieran says

    The problem is that America doesn’t want to have that serious, probing conversation about homophobia. How do we address the problem of homophobia in our society? How do we combat and finally eradicate homophobia in our society? We need to have that conversation. When will it begin?

  11. says

    James says it best.

    The show is hugely popular so the prospect of a gay kiss isn’t exactly scaring off the masses. Heterosexuals (particularly men) are conditioned to be grossed out by two men kissing, but the reality is two beautiful people kissing shouldn’t produce that reaction in anyone–it’s irrational–and as it becomes more and more commonplace the conditioning will change, too.

    Meanwhile, there are several shows pushing that envelope right now, including Empire, and they’re doing just fine, never mind what the idiots are doing to their knobs. They key is having people behind the shows, like Daniels, who will stand their ground when the bozo execs put too much faith in knobs.

  12. shanestud says

    I think Lee Daniels may find a similar reaction if a black actor were kissing a blond actress, especially if black women viewers made up the focus group. TV audiences can be very conventional. That’s why producers who want progressive, edgy plots and liberal audiences go to HBO with their shows.

  13. will says

    “Empire” is doing pretty well in the ratings. It started off with a little over 9 and a half million weekly viewers and is now at about 11 and a half. It’s just surpassed “American Idol” (AI has been declining for some years). The gay kissing doesn’t seem to affect the ratings as each new episode has fared slightly better than the last.

  14. Mike says

    This show is doing well in the rating so any kiss did not harm the show.Maybe some people had a problem with with another black gay man on tv being snow queen.I would luv to see a black gay couple on tv

  15. Merv says

    I love Empire. Sure, it’s a trashy soap, but it’s a well done trashy soap. I love how Lee Daniels is pushing the buttons of homophobes. Just the thought of them squirming gives me great pleasure.

  16. JP says

    I also need to know the racial makeup of the focus group. I hope this doesn’t sound incredibly racist, but as a black gay man the gay aspect of Empire is the least interesting. We finally have a show about successful African Americans on TV and more than 50% of the relationships are interracial. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, however when we RARELY get a black gay male on TV…why was it necessary to have him in an interracial relationship? Could Jamal’s boyfriend not have been another proud gay black man? I’m aware this post sounds horrible, but again, we almost NEVER get two gay black men on tv in a relationship. Even Lafayette was into anything but black men.

  17. northalabama says

    i wonder what the % of zeros would be if it were two women? the surprise for me is lee daniels expectations of his test audience.

    it’s like pavlov’s dog, the bell rings, and their mouths salivate – it’s conditioning ingrained by thousands of years of religious malpractice. a few prime time tv shows will barely help make a dent in this learned behavior, but it’s a good start.

  18. Tarc says

    Well, let’s be honest, those were some interesting polling groups, because 30% of the group should have been LGBTQ (and there are plenty of straight ladies out there that love watching men kiss), so I’m doubting that he’s being accurate. Regardless, the major point Lee is making is accurate – and the reason why there should be LOTS of men kissing on TV. Make it normal, and a lot of homophobia evaporates.

  19. needle says

    The comments here are, as usual, full of retards. One says it’s two black men kissing. No, it’s a black man and a white man. Another says OMG I bet they’d get the same reaction if a black man kissed a blond woman. Newsflash: They do just that on the show.

    How about you idiots actually watch the show before commenting.

  20. Paulette says

    I’m very pleased that Mr. Daniels will continue to push the envelope. He has a successful show, ratings wise, which means advertisers will want to buy air time. Mr. Daniels right now in in a win-win situation. Keep pushing that envelope,Lee.

  21. Cadence says

    In the meantime, Empire saw another unprecedented week of growth last night. Almost up a million viewers week to week, to 12.9 million viewers, and a 5.1 rating among the key demo that advertisers love.

  22. Kim says

    Empire ratings have improved every week since it’s premiere despite the fact that it’s lead in American Idol ratings are declining.BTW the new love interest for Jamal is Black and Openly Gay.I can’t wait to next week.#Empire

  23. says

    Ryan, that is perhaps the most singularly racist — and I would add, narcissistic and pathological — comment I have ever read. I would also observe that it reeks of affluent white male privilege and entitlement. More Gay Incorporated than Gay Liberation.

  24. John says

    Hopefully Andy or a site administrator on Towleroad reads this: I’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, but I can’t visit here anymore, mostly because of the comments section. It’s painfully out of date, unmoderated, and worst of all, littered with racist, bigoted trolls.

    By refusing to moderate your comments, you’re sending us the message you don’t care about your readers. You just care about clicks and the ad revenue we generate for you.

    You have every right to run a blog how you want, but you are turning away readers with this approach, I can assure you of that.

    Best of luck.

  25. Mr Eric G. Osterberg says

    Frankly, I don’t like to see a man and a woman kissing in public as it is unnatural for me, a gay man. However, I was brought up seeing it all of the time and I just accepted it. Straight people will get used to it eventually and accept it even though they may not agree with it.

  26. Jason says

    I wish people who said don’t lump the issue of race with LGBT issues (yes there is a T there folks) would re-examine their reactions. Race and “gay” rights are similar, and yes they are not the same, but in this case the show is about mainly one black family and their peers, some of whom are white, some are also gay. The issue of black men being gay is a huge issue among black people as well as confronting the dominant stereotypes of black men as being super sexual super straight and basically sex beasts. Men enjoy that kind of objectification to some extent but it sure limits the way people see black men. It limits their intelligence (in the minds of those who believe in stereotypes) and it limits their interactions with others who see them as threatening. It’s a lot like the way gay men are hypersexualized. It’s also a lot like the way we are threatening to others because they think we’re staring down every dude in the locker room. Yes indeed gay men are subject to subtle segregation. The issues are not the same, but we can learn from black people how to handle the challenges, and we can also applaud when somebody is brave enough to challenge our own stereotypes about black people as well as gay people. We should not be afraid to forge alliances and help black gay men break that taboo in their own communities. They need our support and we need theirs.

  27. Honest Black Man says

    If you are a true God believing person we just can not go with someone being gay.

    The God that create all of us says that it is unnatural effections and all that partake of this will be put in a lake of fire when you die.

    So to say that a person like me is homophobic is wrong. I’m just God fearing and God is someone to fear. And last in his words ask us who’s report are you going to believe and the believer will believe the report of the LORDS!!!

  28. Evenhanded says

    Lee Daniels,

    Just because heterosexuals have a gag reflex when they see two same sex people kissing; doesn’t make them “Homophobic…” It’s because we are hard wired to react that way… How would you feel having sex with a women? are yo hard wired to like it? How would you feel seeing it? I think we need to look at the science and biology before we judge and label people…People also respond to feeling a connection to people that are different from us rather than having it shoved down their throats.

    And comparing gay rights with “Black Civil Rights” is absurd… I love the show and I’m actually rooting for the gay lead character, I think it’s been done classy, the main gay character is not the typical “sex crazed, flamboyant caricature that we are used to seeing; he is multidimensional, and likable. I’m a herosexual Italian male and I’m not homophobic…I hope you can ease americans into seeing gay men and women as familiar human beings, with the same issues as heterosexuals. I also hope that you dont use the show to force leftist policies and the same monolithic political ideologies that we see on MSNBC and every other left leaning news outlet…I would hope that you would write in intelligent, practical conservative black american characters that have their own thoughts that differ from the “Pro-Obama”, Pro-Broken Liberal policies that have degraded the black communities, than blame evil whitey republicans for their problems… If you voice more than one perspective, and have them work out their issues with compromise, unlike Washington DC you will have me as a viewer, if you become a preachy one-sided activist you will lose me…and many more like me. That said, I wish you the best and congratulations on the success! God Bless…

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