Here’s Why We Believe Gabourey Sidibe Is The Most Important Star On ‘Empire’

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We all know you love ‘Empire’ the show whose second season just started on September 23rd here in the states, and which is a prime example of why diversity in TV isn’t just a novelty, it is essential. The show is based around a family of musicians who run a record label, run by family patriarch Lucious Lyon, and his estranged but badass ex-wife Cookie Lyon. Almost 90% of the cast and guest actors on the show are African American, yet this show is proving popular amongst all types of audiences.

In its first season, it’s ratings were described by Entertainment Weekly as gravity defying, because it not only continued to defy the odds of critics, but also defied what is considered to be traditionally successful formulas in TV. The Fox show broke a 23 year record by being the first primetime scripted series to grow in total viewers over each of its first five telecasts since at least 1991.

Each episode averaged 14 million viewers, and in the March 1st season finale, it broke all prior records, scoring on average some 16.7 million viewers, a rise of 12%, earning the title of the top ranked network series in the all-important 18-49 demographic.

But ‘Empire’ continued it’s reign into the start of season 2, by capturing a total of 20.8 million viewers in the first episode (22 million if you include streaming views on the Fox Now app and Hulu, proving the power of digital platforms). Needless to say the show is a hit no matter which way you look at it. With interesting characters played by some of the top actors in Hollywood (Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson) and catchy music featured in every episode, it’s not hard to see why.

However, apart from the numbers and the big names (let’s not forget heavyweight producer Brian Grazer who claims ‘Empire’ is his “biggest success” to date, and this is a guy who produced ‘Apollo 13’, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and has been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 149 Emmys) we think there is one particular part of this show that contributes to its huge success, and which we realized is our favorite part.

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Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Lucious Lyon’s assistant Becky has become an important part of the show. We all know her from her breakout role on 2009’s ‘Precious’, as well as her guest role on ‘American Horror Story’, but this show is firmly cementing her as one of TV’s most formidable role models. Why? Because when you look at the greater landscape of TV characters, you will be hard pressed to find a black plus sized woman killing it in a prime time show that is breaking records the way ‘Empire’ does.

In fact Gabby herself knows how her mere presence on screen is going to give hope to so many other girls who look like her but don’t feel like they fit in. In an interview with the Associated Press ahead of the season 2 premiere, she talked about why body image matters to her.

“When I was a young girl, I didn’t see enough of myself on TV or in magazines. And representation is very important to everyone, but especially to girls like me, and people like me, whether it be because of my body, because of my race, because of my skin color, because of my awkwardness or where I come from,” she said.

She didn’t set out to become a representative for women, but welcomes the role.

“While it makes me nervous to represent for anyone, I am extremely proud that some brown, round little girl sitting in front of the TV can look at me and that exists as well and that she has some value. That is the most important thing in the world,” she said.

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The idea of young girls watching TV and feeling relieved to know who they are and what they look like is not wrong simply by seeing someone like Gabby, is a powerful form of validation. While it shouldn’t be the case that TV or the media is the thing we look to for any sort of affirmation of confidence, we live in a media obsessed and saturated age, so there might as well be positive messages being put out there.

In an interview with Parade Magazine in 2013 Gabby talked about how not “fitting in” used to bother her, but today she embraces it.

“I’m less and less concerned with fitting in. I was born to stand out. I don’t care whether or not people will find me attractive on screen. That’s not why I became an actor. I know that more and more with each new role,” she said.

In a powerful speech for the Gloria Awards & Gala in 2014, the actress broke down how ridiculous it is that she gets asked where she gets her confidence from, as if being a plus size woman doesn’t automatically qualify you for being a confident, sexy women. She says life is too short to hide her body in shame because of certain standards of beauty.

“‘Gabourey, how are you so confident?’ It’s not easy. It’s hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know I will be made fun of because of my weight. There’s always a big chance if I wear purple, I will be compared to Barney….Twitter will blow up with nasty comments about how the recent earthquake was caused by me running to a hot dog cart or something.  And ‘Diet or Die?’ This is what I deal with every time I put on a dress. This is what I deal with every time someone takes a picture of me. Sometimes when I’m being interviewed by a fashion reporter, I can see it in her eyes, ‘How is she getting away with this? Why is she so confident? How does she deal with that body? Oh my God, I’m going to catch fat!'” she said pointedly.

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“If I hadn’t been told I was garbage, I wouldn’t have learned how to show people I’m talented. And if everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn’t have figured out how to be so funny. If they hadn’t told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn’t tried to break me down, I wouldn’t know that I’m unbreakable. So when you ask me how I’m so confident, I know what you’re really asking me: how could someone like me be confident? Go ask Rihanna, asshole!”

Oh and fun fact, one of the reasons she did learn to love her body from an early age and not focus on her external appearance as the basis of her worth was because she had a famous feminist for an aunt – Dorothy Pitman Hughes, who is famously pictured alongside feminist activist and author Gloria Steinem in a black and white photo raising her fists. Gabby says she would look at that image on her way out of the house every day when she went to school and raise a fist in solidarity.

So if there are any girls out there who feel they are not worthy or will never fit in simply because of all the images they are bombarded with in magazines, on billboards, on the internet, and in film, just know the floodgates are slowly widening and role models like Gabby Sidibe are starting to become more and more visible in the mainstream. Her presence has not only inspired young women, but those who look nothing like her, yet acknowledge how important it is to have diversity in TV.

“What’s surprising is that it doesn’t always come from kids. I get it from the brown, round little girl but also the skinny white man. I think I am a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. And I think that’s what people relate to,” she told AP.

Essentially, that’s what we ALL are, a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, or at least we have been told we need to fit that certain mold. But when we see someone like Gabourey Sidibe, and when we see shows like ‘Empire’ and many others who are finally putting transgender characters, lesbian couples, interracial couples, older women, women and men of color and more in the spotlight, the world all of a sudden becomes a little less lonely and a little less harder to fit in.

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: 'Empire' Actress Gabby Sidibe On Body Image, Eating Disorders & Changing The Narrative Of Rape Culture - GirlTalkHQ

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