Gabourey Sidibe: Unsung Heroine of TV’s Hit “Empire” Challenges Fat Phobia

Home Body Politics Gabourey Sidibe: Unsung Heroine of TV’s Hit “Empire” Challenges Fat Phobia

There is no question that the first season of the epic new series, Empire, has been all most people have been talking about lately (myself included) – even after it’s recent dramatic finale, the show is still managing to make waves, its stunning soundtrack rising in ranks with skilled producer Timbaland serving as music supervisor (It is far superior than most music on the radio and I can’t stop listening to my new personal anthem “Conqueror” on repeat (originated by Estelle, updated by Empire); in fact, Empire has become the first TV series soundtrack to Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Charts, debuting at No. 1). It is clear, not only through the smooth musical stylings, but through the vision of insightful Co-Creator and Director Lee Daniels, Co-Creator and Writer Danny Strong, and Executive Producer Ilene Chaiken (of L-Word fame), that Empire is not just a show serving serious entertainment (although there is certainly no shortage), but serving as a visually moving mouthpiece challenging the current social norms of America by humanizing and giving accurate context for important topics often left untouched by mainstream media.

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Racism is often directly challenged within the show especially when Lucious, played by the suave Terrance Howard, is seen interfacing with a white audience – providing honesty and perspective on living (aka surviving) as a Black individual in America, and the world at large, today. In fact, the rigid yet still likable character of Lucious Lyon seems to serve as a conduit for exploring these deeper societal prejudices in relation to the show’s other characters (as well as his character being a more in-depth example of all individuals battling chronic illness, whether visible or not). Homophobia is addressed in an extremely thoughtful and real way through the character of Jamal, played by the multi-talented Jussie Smollett (who I would love to befriend and sing with in real life just in case anyone was wondering), just as the stigma and shame of mental illness is highlighted through Andre, played by the captivating Trai Byers. Shout out to Hakeem Lyon too, played by the charming Bryshere Gray, for somehow staying so lovable despite your often blinding monetary privilege. {Personally, as a Queer Womyn in an interracial relationship currently in grad school to become a Psychotherapist while battling Crohn’s Disease – this show uniquely speaks exactly to my intersectionalities as a humyn fighting every day for equal rights.}

B8SXgIeCYAEaPvi A mere sentence can barely begin to do justice to how much I love and respect the awareness that the Queen Lyon herself, Cookie, played by real-life SuperWomyn Goddess Taraji P. Henson brings to the show…It is, however, important for me to note here that her character truly gives a more realistic and humanized experience to that of Womyn fighting to save their families the only way they can within their circumstances – the deep pain of having to take the fall for her husband, being jailed and separated from her beloved children, and then receiving negativity and disrespect upon her release, was portrayed so beautifully that it left little room for outsider judgement and a vast spaciousness for compassion to be felt on the part of the audience. Despite the frequent amount the word retroactive term “bitch” is thrown around on Empire (I may not like its use, but it is a realistic portrayal of how people speak currently), there is quite a lot of feminist flair on this show – portraying the empowerment of its womyn characters, and importantly focusing on honoring Black womyn. Cue: the fabulous focus of this article and the unsung heroine of Empire’s amazing ensemble of actors: Gabourey Sidibe WERKIN’ her role as Executive Assistant turned Head of A&R, Becky Williams.



The most important thing for me to highlight about Becky, is that unlike the other characters who Daniels utilizes to explicitly combat prejudices, the character of Becky is actively fighting the social epidemic of Fat Phobia (falsely labeled as a war on obesity) powerfully just by existing on the TV screen by having no discussion about her size occur. That is to say, by not making Becky’s weight a focal point of the show, furthermore, not even mentioning it once in an entire season, Strong/Daniels (whether knowingly or not) visibly created a revolutionary act! Finally a show that celebrates and decorates Gabourey Sidibe like the gorgeous goddess she is; opposed to the typical go-to frumpalicious look that Hollywood stylists often resort to for the few plus size womyn allowed on the screen (come the fuck on already, mainstream media, just like Hakeem raps in “You’re So Beautiful”: “Can’t help it, I love all women. Big, small, medium, and tall women…Aww man, every one of ya’ look good to me!”) It is also very important to consider that if this were an all-white cast, Becky’s weight would certainly be a talking point as well as a platform for endless fat jokes – not only did none of this happen on Empire, but Becky is portrayed as a powerful, respected womyn, unafraid to speak her truth fiercely!


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A brief frenzy ensued last month when cyber gossip questioned whether Gabourey was going to be fired from Empire by Daniels because of her size and the public’s discomfort with it – this photo was tweeted as a swift way to dispel the total BS! I LOVE how blunt this warrior womyn is!

Fox released a  clip from a behind-the-scenes interview with Gabourey about her role as Becky on Empire’s YouTube channel, which apparently Daniels, who first showcased her talents in Precious, tailored and enhanced specifically for Gabourey – despite the fact the role was “written for a boyish, short, white girl” (I, like many, am so grateful it panned out this way). Gabourey’s pure tenacity clearly shines through – and we couldn’t agree more with this extremely talented and brilliant actor who constantly wears her voice! Here are some of my favorite season highlights of Becky that prove just that. 


This scene is the first time the audience is introduced to Becky’s character on the pilot episode of Empire, and I believe that it boldly sets the tone for her strength and value as a member of the Lyon team. Becky commands respect from everyone around her – including from the all-powerful Lucious himself…can’t he respect that she’s wearing heels and trying to take notes at the same time, all while trying to convey a message from President Obama at the same time?!

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Serious power outfit for a seriously pivotal scene in which Becky becomes the first person to learn of Lucious’ illness. Despite the emotional interaction, which positions Becky as one of this powerful man’s only confidants, I couldn’t help loving every bit of how she is styled! Gabourey is the only womyn I’ve ever seen actually pull-off the edgy double cuff look, plus it mixes a double layering of femininity with the addition of pearls. This look also proves that horizontal stripes can be rocked by womyn of ALL sizes!


This close-up features a contrasting demure sweater and bold necklace look that I’m swooning over, plus it showcases flawlessly ethereal make-up. I must admit, at first I was unsure about this hair color, but the more Becky’s humor, kindness, and intelligence shines through, the more I seem to love it! Simply glowing in this scene – and I mean who can blame her? Becky is constantly being supported, included, and celebrated on Empire – I’ll take a glass of vino during my work day too please!


Becky OWNING this all black ensemble, complete with killer boots, as she flirtatiously checks out the new office eye-candy! Besides Becky serving as a constant Body Positive visual reminder, many lyrics from the Empire soundtrack are celebratory of all bodies, further promoting size acceptance. Most notably, my favorite song, “You’re So Beautiful,” tagged as a Lucious Lyon classic hit, features the following lyrics: “You look so good when you walking by. Sexy comes in every size. Keep wearing that. You ain’t playing. You got yourself a new man,  don’t need no workout plan. I call that baby fat, but it sure look good to me, see…You’re so beautiful!”


I really appreciated Empire’s stylists switching-up Becky’s typical inclusion of black in her ensembles, and taking a risk with this brilliant white skirt and top duo, which provides the perfect pop of color (although I wish I knew who exactly to give credit to for really allowing Gabourey’s personality and beauty shine through her attire).



This telling image comes from first scene of Empire’s season finale (that drew an estimated 16.7 million viewers!) in which Lucious lashes out at Becky, and she swiftly puts him in his place – literally being the only character on the show who is able to do so (without getting a death threat! – avid viewers know I’m only halfway joking…). The finale also marks the shift of Becky’s character from Executive Assistant to head of the A&R Department (thanks to the new head homosexual hauncho himself, Jamal)! Keep climbing that corporate ladder, we wanna see you as CEO by the end of the series!


*This just in, after writing this impassioned article, I found out the following: Timbaland’s protégé, Jim Beanz (who played a large role musically on Empire in general), producer Justin Bostwick, and actor Jussie Smollett, wrote the track of “You’re So Beautiful,” for Gabourey Sidibe…Beanz explains: “We were talking about how when it comes to beauty, it’s from the inside out…We had a lot of the words and lyrics and we just took from our relationship with her.” – just when I thought I couldn’t love this cast and crew any more than I do, I find out it is possible – To all those involved with Empire, Wear Your Voice Magazine is grateful for your groundbreaking work!