Off-Screen Drama: 15 Controversies That Empire Accidentally Stirred Up

May 13, 2015  |  
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Empire may be the only show on TV with just as much drama happening off the screen as on it. From Diddy’s copyright claims to Mo’Nique’s emails, Empire is spilling tea and making headlines all over Hollywood. Here are a few of the crazy stories that spawned from the show’s success.

Off-Screen Romance #1

Lee Daniels is sleeping with Bryshere Gray?! That’s what one tabloid suggested.

The incident that led up to these accusations went a little something like this:

Lee Daniels likes a picture of Bryshere Gray…
in the middle of the night…
in between a few shirtless pictures of Tyson Beckford.

But while getting caught late-night liking social media photos is never a great look, this juicy gossip may be overlooking some important facts:

1) Somebody is spending way too much time creeping on Lee Daniels’ page
2) Bryshere Gray isn’t gay (and Lee Daniels and Jahil Fisher sound pretty drunk in love)

Off-Screen Romance #2

An Instagram like is easy to brush off, but Trai Byers (who plays Andre Lyon) and Grace Gealey (who plays Anika, aka, Boo Boo Kitty) are having a harder time ignoring dating rumors. These two say they’re just friends, but they were recently caught getting pretty close at a friends’ wedding.
Have you seen the video? Are these two really just BFFs, or is there more going on?

Who Was Really Supposed To Play Cookie?

When Mo’Nique said that she was the original choice to play the lead character, show co-creator Danny Strong suggested that Mo’Nique was making it up.

But Mo’Nique put this controversy to bed when she brought copies of the receipts emails between her team and Lee Daniels’ to Sway in the Morning and had him read them out loud so all of the naysayers could hear.

Macy Gray’s Big Cut

Mo’Nique wasn’t the only one with a disappearing part on Empire. Apparently, Lee Daniels wrote a part for Macy Gray that was so controversial, it got cut before it was even filmed. Lee told the Hollywood Reporter,

“There was a character that I wrote into the original pilot who was (character) Hakeem’s love interest, a mother figure, (played by) Macy Gray. There was a love scene, and they said, ‘This is too much’. But other than that, we were on the same page.”

Lee if you’re reading this, we’d love to read a copy of that script!

The Vines

While everyone is waiting impatiently for Empire season 2, these Empire Vines are getting scandalously hilarious.

The Big N-Word Controversy

Behind the scenes, Cookie and Lucious Lyon have found one more thing to fight about: the n-word. Terrence Howard says it should be a regular part of the show’s vocabulary, but Taraji P. Henson says that kind of language doesn’t have a place on TV.

And now that Empire is part of the national n-word debate, everybody’s weighing in on whether or not the n-word belongs in anyone’s vocabulary, on-screen or off.

They Stole That From Us! Pt. 1

You know a show is good when everyone thinks it’s about them. And when Iman Shumpert caught his first episode of Empire, he said that he spotted the similarities between himself and Teyana Taylor in the characters, Tiana, and Hakeem.

“They’re using my girl’s character, her style, her look and she’s not getting anything for it. They didn’t even change her name. They could have at least let my girl audition for the part instead of stealing her character completely.

And come on man, they’re really using a guy with a flat top like me. Come on. That’s ridiculous. They never called us. We were blindsided. We found out by our family and fans when the show aired.”

But before Iman and Teyana could see too much of themselves in the on-screen couple, Serayah McNeill — who plays Tiana — set the record straight on Revolt TV:

“I talked to the writers and producers and a lot of it was Beyonce and Rihanna. They loved the Beyonce and Jay Z thing for me and Hakeem so we channeled a lot of them for our performances and stuff.”

They Stole That From Us! Pt. 2

Iman and Teyana weren’t the only ones claiming an Empire character. Joseline Hernandez said she was the inspiration for Cookie, but she doesn’t want any royalties. She recently told VH1:

“I love Empire, honey! I know Cookie been taking some lessons from me. I mean, where you think she gets it from? That ain’t all her character, that’s Joseline Hernandez’s character, honey. I know it for a fact. Shout out to Miss Cookie though.”

But while Joseline is certainly a leopard-loving diva for the record books, Taraji already listed off a few of the women she based the character on, and Joseline wasn’t on the list.

They Stole That From Us! Pt. 3

Diddy suspected for a long time that his friend Lee Daniels may have based Empire on him (and rumor has it that that’s why he kept his son Quincy off of the show). But on Watch What Happens Live, he told Andy Cohen that he had a change of heart:

“I heard that it was mimicking my life, but once I saw that [Lucious] was a criminal, an ex-drug dealer, I knew it wasn’t about me.”

But Andy Cohen is great at getting the tea, and when he pressed, Diddy admitted that he didn’t think it was all unrelated:

Diddy: “I mean, I think that they, you know, a little bit, but yeah, no!”
Cohen: “It’s a tribute!”
Diddy: “I mean, it’s plagiarism a little bit.”

When Empire Was Accused Of Showcasing “The Worst Of Black People”

Everybody agrees that Empire is a hit, but not everybody thinks that it should be.
Tavis Smiley joined the Empire controversy when he told Larry King that he thought the show highlighted the worst things about the black community:

“There is a debate in the black community that hasn’t really surfaced, hasn’t really boiled to the top yet, but I hear it in barber shops and other places, that whether the problem with Empire is that it advances the worst of every pathology that black people have – crime and drug dealing and this and that and the other. A lot of people are looking for positive characters that may come out in the second season. But the first season everybody is ahhh!“

Do you think Empire could use a little more positivity?

Michelle Howard’s Big Pay Day

Terrence Howard’s off-screen divorce drama got its own Empire spin when TMZ reported that his ex-wife Michelle was entitled to 21% of anything Howard made in the first three months of 2015. And that meant that she was supposed to obtain $65K of Terrence’s $125K per episode paycheck without even showing up on set!

Everybody Is Dying To Get On The Show

So far, we’ve heard that everyone from Zac Efron to Chris Rock has asked for a spot on Fox’s new hit. And while we wait on the edge of our seats to see who actually shows up in season two, Empire‘s producer Brian Grazer has been doing his own begging: he wants Oprah and Eminem to appear on the show.

Grace Gealey Discovered She Was “Light-Skinned”

Light skin v. dark skin is no new controversy on Empire or in America. But Empire star Grace Gealy said it was new to her when she came to the United States to act:

“I was discriminated against for being light-skinned and there were a lot of labels. Some people assumed that guys might like me more because of my complexion or that I had it easier in general. Which is funny because I’ve been a victim of prejudice as well: There were times when I have walked into a Rite Aid at 12 o’clock at night and had the store manager stand in the corner and stare at me while I was looking at nail polishes.”

Malik Yoba Outed Jussie Smollett

Jussie Smollett plays openly gay Jamal Lyon so well that Sway Calloway recently asked if he was pulling from personal experience to play the role.

Smollett told Sway he’d rather not discuss his personal life. Unfortunately for him, co-star Malik Yoba surprised everyone and spilled the beans for him to Black Film:

“I think that our show represents a huge opportunity to stay in the culture beyond entertainment value and there’s an intrinsic nature of you have the gay factor, right? So, obviously, Lee is gay. That was an important storyline for him. I think it’s important for people to see themselves. Even within the Black community. But if you aren’t really, really taking it off of screen and making it live in the community in a significant way…like I know Jussie, he is gay, and he’s very committed to issues around the LGBT community. He and I have a very close relationship.”

Whoopsie! But we’re sure Yoba meant well…

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