Mental illness is real, and Andre’s continual downward spiral is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched on television. But the necessity of this image – much like Jamal’s sexuality – within the context of a black family can’t be overlooked.
Reviewing his backstory, Andre occupies a unique and complex space. The oldest of the Lyon cubs, he’s the only one who was truly at an age to understand the malarkey that was the start of Cookie’s 17-year stint in jail. After graduating from an Ivy League institution, it was his skill set that helped Empire become what it is, and the reason he is the company’s CFO. And though Lucious is not feeling his son’s respectability attempt in marrying Rhonda, Andre still believes he’s the most qualified to run the company when his father eventually kicks the bucket.
On top of all of this, he has bipolar disorder. Though his condition is manageable with prescription drugs, he’s not taking them. In this episode, he flushes pills from almost five bottles down the toilet. The “zero to 100” fits he has reach an all-time high when the clan gets stuck in an elevator and pressure mounts as Boo Boo Kitty, also known as Anika, jeopardizes the company’s IPO.
The episode ends with Andre being tackled in a manner reminiscent of Oprah Winfrey’s character in “Selma.” He’s given a shot to subdue him and rolled out on a gurney as Rhonda signs papers to hold him in the hospital for 48 hours.
I can’t help but cringe every time Andre experiences one of his episodes. Not only because of the breathtaking commitment of actor Trai Byers, but because in Andre, I see so many black men I call friends and family.
Black people (and other communities of color) don’t go to the doctor. The theories for this occurrence vary: a historical mistrust of health professionals (Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, anyone?), an over-reliance on religion and spirituality, and limited access to healthcare, among other reasons. For black men, ideas around masculinity and stigma are also said to play a role.
Statistics support this idea, especially when discussing mental health. The CDC, in its 2012 Summary of Health Statistics, reported higher rates of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness in black men as opposed to white men. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health reports African Americans are 20% more likely than whites to report having serious psychological distress, though whites are more than twice as likely to be treated.
Herein lies why Andre’s breakdown makes not only for good TV, but also for necessary conversation in the black community.
If it isn’t diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure or cholesterol, our community is often on mute (and even those issues don’t stop us, or maybe just me, from downing a pack of Hawaiian Rolls in one sitting or smothering any and everything in a pleasant mix of salt and butter).
What we should be doing is working toward dismantling our seemingly predisposed aversion to doctors' offices in hopes of a healthier community – and that starts with having raw conversations about our health.
My hope is that, in the same breath we discuss the complexities of being black and gay, we also bring up our community’s far-reaching health disparities and how “Empire” attempts to address them. Otherwise we do this show, and ourselves, a disservice.
Other moments of note:
-- When will Boo Boo Kitty learn that you don’t mess with Cookie’s family? Anika abandoned the Empire ship in favor of Creedmoor and tried to take some of the label’s biggest artists with her, but Cookie isn’t having it. From proving she can hang longer than the competitor’s goons in a drinking match to reclaiming Hakeem’s bisexual boo Tiana, Cookie, once again, is the glue helping Empire from bursting at the seams.
-- Jamal went D’Angelo on us in the preview for his music video (and I can’t complain even if I wanted to). Before the “Black Messiah” artist dropped his surprise album months ago, he was most recognized for baring it all in his video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” Jamal’s homage doesn’t disappoint.
-- The elevator scene between all of the Lyon cubs is truly touching. I particularly loved the role Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” plays in emotionally connecting the trio and calming Andre. Where is Sandra Reaves-Phillips (who sang the song in the movie of the same name) when you need her?
Following me on Twitter: @TrevellAnderson.