Empire isn’t afraid to go soapy. Last night’s “My Naked Villainy ” did include an attempted murder that was only stopped via a tiny revolver hidden under some bedding, after all. But the over-the-top episode also featured the most real world moment of the hip hop drama, possibly in history, in the form of pop star Tiana’s assaulted friend Kennedy (Hazel Renee).
In last week’s installment, “Strange Bedfellows,” entourage member Kennedy is punched in the face during Hakeem’s club-hopping birthday. The assault occurs after Keem (Bryshere “Yazz" Gray) invites a group of gun-toting men to join his crew for the night and one of them tries to “holler” at Kennedy. She turns him down and he punches her in the face, knocking her to the ground. The celebrity BFF is immediately hospitalized and we learn in “Villainy” she sustained a brutal black eye.
What happens from there couldn’t seem more like reality. Kennedy sues Empire Entertainment for millions in a very public announcement and the company quickly begins figuring out how to assassinate her character. Shady lawyer Thirsty (Andre Royo) tells Hakeem to say nothing — including an apology — because that would admit culpability on Empire’s part. “What we’re going to do is dig up all the dirt on that girl and depose her,” he advises. “Listen, Hakeem, maybe you can show up at the deposition. Face the girl. Intimidation is key.”
While that’s disgusting to hear, we’ve seen real-life women dragged through the same real-life mud. Take Kesha, whose psychiatric, gynecological, and rehab records were nearly released to shame her during the singer’s ongoing legal battle with alleged abuser Dr. Luke. Or Chris Brown’s ex-girlfriend Karrueche Tran, who was labeled a fame-obsessed liar by the R&B star’s fandom after she spoke out about Breezy’s alleged abuse and death threats. This kind of victim blaming is the sad truth for women who fight back against violence.
Kennedy’s deposition makes everything worse, thanks to Thirsty’s disturbing line of questioning. The “lawyer” interrogates the young women on her alcohol consumption, “mooching” behavior, the fact she was smiling with her assailant before he attacked her, and prior sexual encounters. Finally Thirsty yells at Kennedy, “You have a history of this. You sleep with men and then later on claim it's assault!"
First of all, that’s trash. Secondly, she didn’t sleep with her attacker. Thirdly, even if she had, no part of this disturbing witch hunt has to do with whether or not Hakeem’s dangerous new friend assaulted Kennedy. Sex doesn't give a man the right to abuse a woman, so absolutely nothing Kennedy could have done in her entire life could justify such a vicious attack.
In a redeeming moment, Keem’s mom Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) and big brother Jamal (Jussie Smollett) finally make the “Can’t Truss ‘Em” performer take accountability for how his music consistently puts women in the place of blame, no matter what. Hakeem — who incorrectly protests he couldn’t be a misogynist or inspire misogynistic behavior simply because he has a daughter — realizes the error of his ways. In a very Lyon family mea culpa, the rapper drops “Special,” a track where he publicly apologizes to Kennedy and urges men to stop disrespecting women across the globe.
After an insanely long history of misogyny, this is one small step in the right direction for Hakeem.
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