‘Empire’ Draws Inspiration From Sony Hack, Cyber Scandals With Nude Photo Storyline

Elizabeth Wagmeister
Variety

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched “Empire” Season 3, episode 6, titled “Chimes at Midnight,” which aired on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

“Empire” was hacked on Wednesday night with an episode that struck similarities to real-life cyber scandals. The major storyline on this week’s “Empire” was consumed with a major hack that exposed the emails and personal information of all employees and artists at Empire Entertainment — including a nude photo of Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson).

“The Sony hack is very much the inspiration, as well as the fact that we’re all living in the digital world where we all put everything out there,” executive producer Sanaa Hamri tells Variety. “At ‘Empire,’ we’re always on the pulse of current affairs and the hack at Empire, it’s real, and it could totally sink the entire company.”

As for the naked photo, Hamri says that plot point was organic to the ongoing storyline of Cookie and Angelo (Taye Diggs) whose romantic relationship has been evolving throughout this season.

“Mainly, the idea that was talked about was Cookie coming back to herself and really feeling Angelo and feeling things that are riskier,” Hamri explains. As for underlying message of the scene, the producer/director adds, “In general, we have to be careful when we take nude photos with our faces on it because obviously it can go into the ether of the internet…we’ve had all the scandals from Anthony Weiner all the way to Leslie Jones, so I think it’s very relevant in this day and age.”

The hacking storyline in this week’s episode led into the larger theme of women being disrespected in society when Angelo, who’s running for mayor, was hammered by the press to speak about Cookie’s nude photo. Aside from real-life headlines about cyber hacks, the sentiment of female objectification also drew a parallel to real-life headlines that have emerged after Donald Trump won the election.

“The outcome of the election, while people were surprised and a lot of people have different political views, it shows that we have a lot more to go. We have to communicate and speak to each other, and I think the show does that by opening up topics that nobody really talks about,” Hamri says. “When we filmed this episode, this was way before the outcome and everybody thought that Clinton was going to win, so at that time we weren’t discussing that. But now, we are very much motivated in making change and making sure that we continue to change the wrongs in the world.”

Real-life drama aside, Hamri says that this week’s themes of hacking and female disrespect will end up strengthening Cookie and Angelo’s relationship, which was temporarily cut off by a break-up in Wednesday’s episode.

“I love that part when he says I’m taking my shirt off for all women because it’s always a double standard — men can do whatever they want to do and as a woman, it becomes more scandalous,” Hamri says, referencing the scene toward the end of the episode. “[Cookie] is discovering that he represents similar qualities and similar morals that she has because she’s feisty and has always been the one who speaks her mind and he does the same, so that makes her even more deeply in love with him. I think the relationship is going to deepen even further throughout the season.”

As for the other major storyline in this week’s episode — Jamal (Jussie Smollett) nearly overdosing on his PTSD-prescribed pills — Hamri notes that the “Empire” writers are trying to shine a light on the real-life issue of addiction. (“That’s something that we’re very passionate about because people need help,” she says.)

“Jamal is in a downward spiral, and it takes just an accident to get hooked and those pills are so lethal. It’s a dangerous, treacherous road that Jamal is going down,” Hamri warns. “I do hope that would be his wake-up call, but there’s a big surprise in the midseason finale with that.”

Drop a comment below. What do you think about “Empire” tackling real-life issues, such as cyber hacking, female objectification in society, and addiction?

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