Many of my friends know that I like Andre Lyon portrayed by Trai Byers the most out of the three brothers and favor him to take over. When I say this people tend to respond “Buts he’s so shady” (but who on the show isn’t) or “He is being used by his wife” to which I’d argue they are more partners in crime than having some puppetmaster and puppet relationship because after last night it can be said they both use and/or just love and help each other. Now Andre is the firstborn but he is treated as if he was the middle child just because he isn’t a musician which sucks for the him and being a middle child myself that is probably why I feel connected to him. Since Andre is not a musician, he studied and worked hard earning his MBA and eventually becoming the CFO of Empire (I wonder if this is why some of the board members don’t like him thinking he only got it because it is Lucious’s company). I admire Andre for what he represents as a black CFO of a multi-million dollar company. Now the reason Andre is so problematic is his scheming (which I would argue matches his qualifications and education) with his wife Rhonda. These two are truly the Macbeth and Lady Macbeth on the show. However, I feel that Rhonda truly does love him as she is always looking out for him and telling him to take his medication for his Bi-Polar Disorder. Andre’s character is often diminished by others who clamor to Jamal’s bravery or Hakeem’s gravitas without noting how necessary his character is for his role as a black man on TV but also for how he forces the audience to confront the stigma it has associated with mental illness.
So I had the idea for this post weeks ago but I kept putting it off which was probably good because this week’s episode “A Lyon’s Roar” is where we start to see Andre’s Bi-Polar Disorder take a more dramatic almost deadly manifestation. What forced me to write this are the comments online like “He’s crazy”. The way the commenters use it automatically dehumanizes Andre and what he represents. He becomes the other. Unstable and something to be feared. This compounded with everyone’s lack of trust for him because he is “shady” (I actually admire the calculating nature as it challenges dominant stereotypes that black men aren’t intelligent) and Andre very easily and quickly becomes the least favorite of the Lyon boys. Also going in the line of what Anika represents to the black community of the historic image of the bougie black person, Andre in some respects is seen by many as a traitor to his race for marrying a white woman.
As I mentioned in my previous analysis of Empire and previous blog posts, whiteness has always been something to aspire to under white supremacy so it is easy to see why many in the black community, myself included, were upset at what his image meant. After all he is the most educated on the show and the fact that he has a white wife reflects this larger notion that successful black men need to marry white because either a) these black men feel that black women never accepted them before they got rich because they were seen as nerds or punks (this warped sense of masculinity needs to disappear) or b) they low key hate their blackness and want to be accepted by white society (Lucious accused Andre of this and basically said because Andre married Rhonda he would never inherit Empire). Now I don’t know why Andre married Rhonda but putting my racial politics aside, and though their relationship is very…free, I have to say they have the most functional relationship on the show. Rhonda is the only one (besides Vernon) who really knows about Andre’s Bi-Polar disorder and she stays on him about taking his medication. They plot together and go along with each other’s ideas even if it involves old white gentlemen confined to motorized wheelchairs (Sorry Rhonda). Andre does represent a truth. Many black women feel that the successful black men are either gay, taken by white women, or not man enough to handle them. Though these generalizations are terrible it does give us something to look at. Andre is the pinnacle of success being a young black CFO but his choice in wife makes many suspicious. It doesn’t help that she helps him scheme because people then argue that she is his puppetmaster and that he has no free will (which I completely disagree with). Yet Andre’s relationship with Rhonda automatically makes me think of another interracial relationship that some black women actually love *Enter Olivia Pope and Fitz/Jake* The double standard is unreal. Now I am a big supporter of black love especially on TV (I often complain that Shonda made Edison, the only black boyfriend Olivia had, so unlikable that people celebrated when she returned to Fitz) but I’m glad Andre at least highlights a real conversation in the black community. Now my observations are only based on what I have seen and not statistical data but in my opinion more people have been sympathetic, especially earlier on, to Olivia’s foolishness with Fitz but Andre does not get a chance as a black man. Similarly to the class argument, it makes me wonder what else is at work in the minds of black viewers that make them dislike certain characters (get on this social scientists who study black people and media!).
Aside from what Andre represents as the “stereotypical” successful black man who marries a white woman, the character’s real Achilles heel is his struggle with his Bi-Polar Disorder. As stated before, the comments that dehumanized him really affected me because mental illness is still one of the things that we as a society scorn and hide. For example, we throw the word “crazy” around so casually that it is often used when not needed; the same also goes for bi-polar ex: “This weather is so bi-polar”. As a result when a person is said to have some form of mental illness we automatically dismiss them and stigmatize them. I want to emphasize the “we” because this is something that I have to become more conscious of as well. I do not know anyone that struggles with Bi-Polar disorder but I know people who struggled with coming to terms with learning disabilities. Though probably not comparable to the mental illness, my friends who struggled with ADHD talked of how the medical regimen makes you feel like a different person the way it affects the body. I can only imagine the same on a different scale happens to people with mental illness such as a person like Andre. The truth remains mental illness never lost the stigma. In the old days the mentally ill were locked away in Asylums by ashamed family members. As a result today we have people suffering in silence, refusing to seek help. Then there are those who take the medication until they feel better. This stigma is especially a problem in the black community.
By now people should know I’m not just talking about a show to talk about a show. The issue of mental health in the black community is a problem not only because we tend to suffer in silence but because mentally ill black men especially have been on the receiving end of police violence. Ezell Ford is probably the current most well known case but there is the shooting of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee and the recent shooting (Feb 2015) of Lavall Hall in Miami. Then there are the mentally ill black women who have been killed or brutalized by police officers. Blackness as we have seen is scary but couple that with mental illness which is also stigmatized then the black person is seen as an immediate danger to society that needs to be put down. Trai Byers is doing a tremendous job of shedding light on this very important issue that many are dismissing because of the stigma attached to mental illness. Hopefully we as a community will begin to change the way we talk about mental illness so that we do not dehumanize our brothers and sisters who may be struggling with these issues. For if we stigmatize our mentally ill, how can we expect the police officers to view them as human when they are having an episode?
Since this is a heavy topic here is something to lighten it a little:
Also this faux news article is pretty cool (nice touch production and advertising teams) and if I didn’t know any better it could be seen as believable. Pay attention to how the author tries to subtly convey Andre’s Bi-Polar disorder by describing his excessive energy.
Last thing! For the people who say Andre can’t run Empire because he has Bi-Polar Disorder please look at this list that includes the names of a variety of successful individuals who have this mental illness. Aside from the actors, musicians, and artists you have a list of business men one who includes Ted Turner the media mogul responsible for CNN. If they can do it why can’t Andre?
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