*SPOILERS FOR EMPIRE AHEAD*
Greetings, lovers of the Zoo.
Frankly, I wish I was back under better conditions, but alas, I am not.
What am I back for?
Well, if you’re here—and apparently don’t care about spoilers—I’m here to talk about the latest deaths in Empire. Specifically, the killing off of Camilla (a bisexual Black woman) and Mimi (a White lesbian).
Admittedly, I am behind on the show, but as soon as the above deaths happened, a good friend reached out to me and informed me of the news. And, let’s just say that I was NOT a happy camper.
So, here’s the thing. A lot of people are rushing to the defense of the show and the powers that be—specifically show creator Lee Daniels (a gay Black man) and executive producer Ilene Chaiken (a White Lesbian) —saying that they couldn’t possibly be contributing to the “Bury Your Gays”/”Kill The Lesbian” trope that I mentioned in this article’s title because they, themselves, are gay/members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
So here’s the thing: LGBTQIA+ folx are not immune from horizontally punching/oppressing each other. Not even in the slightest. Just like other communities have nuances, layers, and different power dynamics and privileges at play, those SAME forces are at work within the LGBTQIA+ community as well.
Prime example: A gay White man is not gonna be marginalized in the same way as a Black lesbian. Ever. You know why? Because he is still White and male—two seemingly, highly valued things in this world. In that same vein, a gay Black man is STILL not gonna be marginalized in the same manner as a Black lesbian because—again—he is still a man. And I cannot even begin to describe how that is complicated when Trans folx enter the mix (and I’m not going to because I am not Trans and cannot speak to that experience) but just know that it is not. the. same.
But of course, I’m guessing most of you noticed that in my brief analysis of privileges within the LGBTQIA+ community, I did not bring up the issue of bisexual/pansexual people.
That is not by accident.
While they are members of the community, they are erased and overlooked for a myriad of grossly unfair reasons, which the show’s executive producer, Ilene Chaiken, actually contributed to when speaking on specifically Camilla’s death:
“’I would say that Camilla is not a lesbian character. Camilla was, if anything, an opportunist, which is quite different from being a lesbian. If anything, the lesbians should wish for a character like Camilla to be killed off since she just preyed on a powerful lesbian in order to fulfill her heterosexual ambitions.””
I’m just floored, y’all. You know why? Because this is what we’re talking about when we say “bi-erasure”. This is what we’re talking about when we say that calling yourself bisexual or even pansexual is still looked at with this almost snobbish and presumptive stigma.
Bisexual/pansexual folx are seen as “greedy” for preferring multiple genders versus just “male and female” (lol @ the gender binary). They are seen as “indecisive” because they “just can’t pick one”. They are seen as “deceptive” because OTHER PEOPLE—not them—assume them to be either just “gay” or “straight” depending on who they show up with this week. They are literally seen as “not real queer people” for having the audacity, the AUDACITY, to love who they want how they want and in any way that they want.
Chaiken’s categorization of the Black and bisexual Camilla as an “opportunist” with “heterosexual ambitions” does not help either and it makes me exceedingly irate. Her reducing Camilla to such LITERALLY plays into all of the negative stereotypes about bisexual folx that are out there. And this statement is also exacerbated by the fact that a fan-favorite Empire character–Cookie Lyon—referred to Camilla as a “half-lesbian bitch” in a previous episode. So by that alone, I count more erasure and not to mention the racialized aspect of having a queer Black woman be the villain in all of this (nevermind that I personally think Lucious is and should be the villain and will surely be the architect of his and his family’s misfortune in the near, foreseeable future).
There’s also the abysmal representation factor that contributes to how disgusting and alarming this situation is. In a year that has already seen at LEAST 12 queer women killed off of television (4 in the last week ALONE), Empire just dropped the cherry on top of a disrespectful cake.
And then, if we bring race back into the mix, these numbers get even more abysmal. Which brings me back to the subject of Camilla being a bisexual Black woman. While straight Black folx are still trying to make strides in terms of representation, that number is even SMALLER for queer Black folx. And that number gets even smaller than that when we are talking about queer Black women.
A queer Black woman leading a primetime television show.
It was quite the rarity until that moment. Furthermore, as the lead character of that particular show, she has been allowed develop as a character—for better or for worse—without fans of hers having to wonder if she will be the “next gay” to be “buried” this week or the next.
And you know what, it’s shameful. It is incredibly shameful that there are not more characters out there like her. In addition to that, it is also incredibly shameful that many queer women on TV in general do not get more of the same nuanced treatment. In fact, if I am to keep it absolutely 100% with yall, this is especially maddening when I consider how their male counterparts are treated.
Sure. Gay men on TV also aren’t immune from the “Bury Your Gays” trope. But to deny that that same trope is disproportionately applied to lesbians, bisexual women, and pansexual would not only be disingenuous, but it would, quite frankly, be factually incorrect.
Case in point, Empire’s Jamal–a gay Black man–is dealing with a pretty nuanced storyline right now that covers territory concerning sexual fluidity. That is a huge f*cking deal and it is one that should be applauded. There’s so much to be said about how that contributes to conversations surrounding Blackness, masculinity, queerness and how all three intersect in this manner.
That said, why is it that Camilla and Mimi did not receive this same nuanced treatment? Sure, it’s fair to assert that because they are not “main” characters, they were destined to never have that much depth. But that in itself is not a good enough excuse. All minor/recurring characters do not need elaborately planned and written backstories or origin stories to exist. However, I am of the mind that these same characters deserve to be treated with mindfulness and nuance, even if their roles do not extend that far.
As the only queer women on the show, Camilla and Mimi should not have been reduced to plot devices, plot twists, and plot turns. They should not have been reduced to “man-hating lesbians out to destroy the [Black] family” (in this case, the Lyon family). They should not have been reduced to the religious right’s nightmare come true when it comes to their toxic and bigoted rhetoric about “The Gays” doing away with the nuclear family.
They should have been complicated too. They deserved to be complicated too. And they did not deserve the fates that they suffered. Shock value be damned.
Images From: Gifsec.com, Giphy.com, GifPlanet.com, Reactiongifs.com, Empire.wikia.com, Nymag.com