|There's a reason why they|
call her "The Queen"
~ Special Edition ~
I'll be honest: I both did and did not want to do this one. I did because I am so, so, so happy to welcome Taraji P. Henson back to Black Girls' Night Out, our favorite running feature which she helped originate.
I did not want to do this, however, because the character of Cookie Lyon is so unspeakably, indescribably beyond awesome that I felt unworthy to even try this.
But our other writers have their plates full so...guess who?
For those who didn't watch the pilot of FOX's new hip-hop drama Empire...what are you doing with your lives???? Critics have unanimously declared that Cookie Lyon is the best aspect of the show. She's powerful and riveting, stealing every scene she's in, and dwarfing the other members of the cast.
Cookie is the ex-wife of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard, of course), a rapper-turned-mogul. Now, it's very important to know that the only reason Lucious even experienced such success is that Cookie was a drug dealer who invested $400,000 in their company. She got caught and was sentenced to thirty years...but only serves seventeen due to good behavior (which is hilarious considering her behavior outside of jail).
After she was imprisoned, Lucious divorced her and went on to - and I use this term lightly - "raise" their three small children. When they reach adulthood and Lucious finds out he's terminally ill, and has to appoint a successor to his company, he tells his sons, "In order for it to survive, I need one of you Negroes to man up and lead it", thus revealing how he truly feels about all of them. (But I'm, like...with kids you get what you give, right?)
The eldest, Andre (portrayed by a very delicious Trai Byers who also appears in Ava Duvernay's Selma), is the cold-hearted, manipulative business-minded son who went to grad school and married a white woman whose name I can't remember (I know she's portrayed by Kaitlin Doubleday though!). Andre in many ways is a good candidate, having been his father's right hand for a while, but he doesn't have a musical bone in his body which, in his father's eyes, disqualifies him outright. Out of shame (and basically not having a heart) Andre never visited Cookie in prison, but when she gets out, he tries to use her to pit his younger two brother against each other. See...his wifey advised him that if the younger two kill each other, he'll be the last one standing. Cookie calls him out on that right away. When Andre defends his wife as being brilliant, Cookie replies, "Pretty white girls always are, even when they ain't."
The youngest, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), is his father's favorite, even though he's a spoiled teenager who shouldn't be allowed to speak in public ever. He clubs all night and is hung over in his father's studio by day. He's mouthy, entitled, and has ignored the mother who was incarcerated since he was baby. When Cookie gets out and meets her youngest, he actually calls her a bitch. So...she grabs a broom and whups his ass, y'all. I mean, she picks it up and gives him the type of old-school caning that's got the black blogosphere recalling whoopings from every auntie and grandmamma from back in the day. When Hakeem goes whining to his father, Lucious merely chuckles and says, "I see you met yo momma." Hakeem is a rapper and Lucious's favorite, though to me...Hakeem sounds like a watered down Lil Wayne on the mike. And who in their right mind would leave the fate of an entire company to Hakeem???
Which brings us to Jamal, portrayed by the utterly ethereal Jussie Smollett. Jamal is the middle child, in every sense of the word. He's like the patron saint of middle children; I seriously ought to get a silver pendant of him and wear it around my neck for luck. Jamal is the most brilliant and gifted of all his father's children, but Lucious refuses to give him his due because Jamal is gay (and living with his very cute boyfriend Michael). Jamal is the most loyal to his mother, giving her the warmest welcome home when she gets out. Cookie's the only one who ever stood up for Jamal (like when he wore his mother's heels and his daddy literally threw him in the trash). Cookie has been lauded for not being written as a weakling mother who cowers when her husband's treating the kids like shit. She steps between her son and husband, shoves her husband, and tells Lucious, "I wish you would...." And he promptly backs off.
I love their relationship. When Jamal is still a tiny human, and he goes to visit Cookie in jail, she tells him upfront that he's different and his life will be difficult, but that he always needs to remember that she loves him and that she's got him. It makes their reunion scene all the more touching.
Then there's the actual relationship between Lucious and Cookie. Lucious breaks into a cold sweat when he first learns she's been released from prison. As I mentioned earlier, her sacrifice made him a multi-millionaire who attends state dinners with the Obamas and is about to make Empire, his company, a publicly traded member of the New York Stock Exchange...and he actually divorced her ass. Now, I've got theories about these two. Despite the flashbacks showing genuine chemistry between the couple, I think he sold her out to the cops. I think that once he got her $400K, Lucious figured he didn't need Cookie anymore and was more than happy to get rid of her ass. He avoided seeing her when she was incarcerated and would send little Jamal in to do the talking.
So the minute Cookie gets out, she goes after what's hers. She demands a $5 million/year salary and to be head A & R. She settles for an unnamed seven-figure salary and the management of Jamal's career (with some Machiavellian advice from Andre), because she wants to make Jamal a star and show that he can run Empire.
Kevin Hart has a joke about his Uncle Richard, Jr., and how after someone spends a long time in jail, they eat, sleep, and think "jail." Taraji brings this convincing prison yard swag to her Cookie persona which is both deeply amusing and mesmerizing (and heartbreaking when you think of what she's had to survive). To Cookie, everybody is a bitch and she lets them that know up. In fact, you could say "bitch" is a permanent fixture in her vocabulary, and Taraji says it with absolute perfection.
There's also the whole answering the door with a gun and telling people to kiss her black ass during a board meeting....
I'm not really into hip-hop dramas and I haven't cared about Terrence Howard since The Best Man, but I'm hooked on Empire because of Taraji. This is about to be one hell of a ride, y'all.