Serial Lesbian TV Character Killer Strikes Again: “Empire” Murders Two Terrible Women


So many weird things have happened this month in the world of queer girl television and the online culture that surrounds it and the media that covers it! So much of it has been just absolutely DELICIOUS. Just! Just something to dine out on. Like, get your fork, get your napkin, we’re having multiple courses. Finish your soup, ’cause tonight the main course comes to us from my antagonist Ilene Chaiken, the showrunner behind Empire:

Though the pattern of television deaths has become a recent trend, “Empire” showrunner Ilene Chaiken — who co-created Showtime’s “The L Word” prior to the Fox hit, and has been outspoken about her own identity as a lesbian — says her series’ shocking double death does not fall into the same category.

“I think that we aren’t a part of that phenomenon or conversation,” Chaiken tells Variety, adding that she’s been following the social reaction to other shows “very closely.”

Speaking about Campbell’s character (who had sex with a man, Bryshere Gray’s Hakeem Lyon, in the scene prior to her death), Chaiken explains: “I would say that Camilla is not a lesbian character. Camilla was, if anything, an opportunist, which is quite different from being a lesbian. If anything, the lesbians should wish for a character like Camilla to be killed off since she just preyed on a powerful lesbian in order to fulfill her heterosexual ambitions.”

So, are there any plans to introduce a loving lesbian couple on “Empire?”

“No plans at the moment, but it’s always in my thoughts,” Chaiken says. “I don’t know whether anybody else shares my wish for that, but I’m always looking for that story.”

I mean, sure? In many ways, this is a slight diversion from what’s most heartbreaking about the trope, but it still fits into the larger conversation and has implications beyond itself. It’s still gonna be on the list along with every other lesbian TV character death because it adds up. Every lesbian TV character death doesn’t need to be a reflection of a showrunner’s malicious intent or a disregard of queer investment in order to be part of a troubling overall culture that we’re all interested in dismantling and looking at a little bit more closely. And Heather will talk more about this on Friday!

More importantly, from a longer interview about the episode overall with Ilene Chaiken:

Who came up with the idea to turn “Drip Drop” into “Flip Flop?”
That was an idea that came up in the room and it was very much a group effort, but Josh Allen [“Empire” writer] I think gets the share of credit, because I remember him singing “Flip flop, flip flipitty flop.”

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3202 articles for us.


  1. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be malicious in intent. I don’t think any of the showrunners killing lgbt folk, lesbians, bisexuals, and heterosexual opportunists, are maliciously killing these characters, but that it’s the go to story telling device is what’s making me sick and tired.

  2. “Camilla was, if anything, an opportunist, which is quite different from being a lesbian.”

    ilene chaiken has never met my ex girlfriend HEYYOOOO

      • I’ve needed to know how to insert a photo more than this moment.

        [Imaginary insert of Jenny Schector]

        [Imaginary insert of Helena Peabody]

        [Imaginary insert of Dawn Denbo]

        [Hell, I’d even include Bette Porter on this list. As much as I love her]

        And on… And on.. And on….

  3. This has really, truly angered me in a way that I didn’t even know I could be mad at a show as terrible as Empire. But I am shook to my core.

    I think, in particular, I’m angered by Ilene Chaiken’s cavalier response. First that somehow she get’s to be exempt from the dead lesbian trope- because, what? She’s a part of the community? Or because Empire has been some gay beacon? (It’s not, by the way, but whatever)


    “If anything, the lesbians should wish for a character like Camilla to be killed off since she just preyed on a powerful lesbian in order to fulfill her heterosexual ambitions.”

    She just said that bi women are predators and better off dead.

    With that one sentence, Ilene Chaiken just insured that *this* bisexual black girl never, ever watch Empire again. My loyalty to Taraji P Henson does not come at the price of my own self-worth.

    And here’s the thing: Camilla and whatever Mimi were terrible women. I get that. But let’s put their death in the broader context of not only the current Great Bi/Lesbian Death Toll of 2016, but also the skin crawling biphobia plaguing Empire. And the biphobia of the L Word, even 10+ years ago. She has a pattern and that pattern deserves to be called out.

    I hope Ilene gets draggled all over the internet for this.

    Burn in a thousand fires.

    • Welp that quote pushed me back into the Hulk stage of processing my emotions.

      I’ll be back once I return to the Liz Lemon eyeroll stage emotional processing.

    • “With that one sentence, Ilene Chaiken just insured that *this* bisexual black girl never, ever watch Empire again. ”

      Did the same for me when she made the lesbian f*ck a guy.

    • I like the show but you’re ~spot on~
      the latest episode was rampant with biphobia(the flip flop thing was really gross and not funny)but now I get it now that I know who’s behind it *eyeroll emoji* and her comments make it worse

  4. Camilla was an awful character and I’m not sad to see her gone, for purely narrative reasons, but REALLY ILENE? Her “heterosexual ambitions?” I’m pretty sure her ambitions had nothing to do with her sexuality, which, by the way, was BISEXUAL. Ugh, I wish Ilene Chaiken would just go away.

    Also, can Tiana get a new girlfriend? Or did everyone in the Empire writers’ room forget that she is also a BISEXUAL character?

    • Don’t remind her abt Tiana or else her tour bus will explode after getting shot at while driving off a cliff next week or something

  5. Seriously, when I think about the fact that Empire writers room is not only headed by Ilene, but overseen by out queer black man Lee Daniels, and got notierity specifically for hiring unknown writers of color earlier this year to them give opportunity- I just…. there are no words.

    (It should go without saying, but I’m gonna pause my rage to say thanks for timely and quick coverage, Autostraddle. Glad to know that you care about queer black girls on tv, even if the queer and black people in THEIR OWN WRITERS ROOM DO NOT)

    • Jea I thought the same. It’s one thing when a straight white male showrunner comes up with this stuff, but when people who are supposed to be sensitive to those issues do it to, that’s even worse.

      • “It’s one thing when a straight white male showrunner comes up with this stuff, but when people who are supposed to be sensitive to those issues do it to, that’s even worse.”

        Yeah, it’s PAINFUL when WE are the ones reproducing these ingrained tropes that have been used to hurt us all this time.

        And it’s those very tropes that have internalized all this bullshit in the first place.

  6. “Opportunist” she says “not a lesbian” she says

    Oh so we’re filling another trope my brain says: Depraved Bisexual

    Allow me to express my feels about the invocation of this trope in the year 2016

    followed by

    and ending with

  7. She is not a lesbian character, she is an opportunist.


    Has Ilene Chaiken met Jason Rotthenberg? It seems like a match made in heaven.

    • You know, I’ve never seen Ilene Chaiken and Jason Rotthenberg in the same place. Coincidence? I think not.

  8. Chaiken: Lesbian audiences shouldn’t be upset over a bisexual character and her heterosexual agenda, I’m sure you wanted her dead anyway. I’m not part of the conversation about LGBT tropes because y’all should be celebrating after this episode.

    • And that answer was particularly dumb in context of the fact she also killed lesbian character (although she made her f*ck man first, so it’s 2 damaging tropes at once).

      So what’s her reasoning? Lesbian viewers shouldn’t be mad over killed lesbian character because the bisexual character that used her was also killed?

      • Oh boy, that’s so ridiculous, I passed the stage of rage and can only laugh about it.

    • “a bisexual character and her heterosexual agenda” I want you to take a second to think about what’s wrong with that sentence

  9. THEY are killing lesbians the wrong way. I’M doing it the right way. HUGE, BIG difference. See what a difference I’m making?

  10. I’m super behind on Empire but after reading this I have no intention of ever watching again. The Depraved Bisexual who deserves to die? Yeah, count me out.

  11. Oh man, once again, I am SO GLAD that I quit Empire after the second episode of season 2. I’m so glad I didn’t not stick around to have to suffer through this shit.

    I almost understand how a straight white dude like JRoth can’t understand these basic concepts, but how can Ilene Chaiken and Lee Daniels mess this up so badly!?

    • Because they live in a bubble where they no longer see the real world or other shows. These tropes are normal and accepted in writers rooms so nobody even begins to think about this stuff.

      Pointing towards the we aren’t part of this interview for evidence

    • Because it’s cyclical, isn’t it? We grow up seeing these tropes, we internalize them, we reproduce them, ad infinitum and DEFINITELY ad nauseum.

  12. This season started with a Black Lives Matter concert and now 12 episodes later we’re doing this storyline.

    I’ve got whiplash.

    Putting in my formal request for a spin off show about nothing but Cookie Lyons buying outfits. I’m ready to abandon ship but I don’t know what I’d do without my weekly dose of Taraji. If we could get a show just about Cookie threatening to fire her seamstress because the slit in her gold lame dress needs to reach her *upper* upper thigh or attempting to find the pumps that match her fuchsia fur wrap, I would be satisfied.

  13. You guys, Ilene Chaiken is right. I have been wishing for lesbians to get killed off. I think something happened when I was drunk, with this brass lamp filled with the spirit of Jenny Schecter. I’m sorry guys…so many dead lesbians…this is all my fault.


    I honestly wouldn’t have cared about these particular deaths if it weren’t for the fact that Chaiken spewed that utter bullshit after the fact. Her interviews are always the fucking worst even during her L Word days. They were horribly written from jump, much like many of the other characters on this show. I’ve been saying for years that once Chaiken gets her hands on a show she runs it straight into the ground. She’s done it with every show she’s ever had.

    I’m also just sick and tired of showrunners killing LGBT characters in such stereotypical ways then and going “Oh, our show is completely exempt from being criticized for using THAT trope because uh well I said so”. What Chaiken did might even be worse than what Rotherberg did because she’s actually giving interviews where she’s sighting the character’s sexuality as a reason for why people should be happy she’s dead. Ugh. This might be one of the worst cases of The Evil Bisexual Predator I have ever seen.

    • “I honestly wouldn’t have cared about these particular deaths if it weren’t for the fact that Chaiken spewed that utter bullshit after the fact.”

      SAME. I watched the episode live and it didn’t even occur to me to care, because both Camilla and Mimi were “villains” that the protagonists (the Lyon family) were trying to defeat. Killing them made sense for the narrative so the fact that they were queer female characters didn’t automatically make me bothered by their deaths. BUT THEN I was on tumblr and saw Ilene Chaiken’s absolutely fucked up quote and suddenly I was mad. Yes, Camilla was an evil predator BUT NOT BECAUSE SHE WAS BISEXUAL. Ilene Chaiken is seriously an embarrassment to our community.

  15. Leave it to Ilene Chaiken to perpetuate the trope AND give the most insulting answer to criticism yet!

    I’m convinced that Cookie’s “confused, wishy-washy bisexuals” line in the previous episode is Chaiken’s actual opinion of bi people and the fact that someone said it on television without any other character commenting on how messed up it is really infuriates me.

  16. I think I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I am so glad I never started watching this show.

  17. This is more a general view about the state of TV nowadays, or maybe I’m missing some information, but are writers on a strike or something?

    Because, come on, one third of the year and all the shows I watch went to the crapper. Besides the never-ending bury your gays trope, I’ve seen lazy plot devices, lazy cliffhangers, killing or destroying characters all over the place (and not jus physically) and a bunch of storylines that don’t make any sense. So, what a hell is going on?

    Endnote: FUCK YOU, CHAIKEN.

  18. “I would say that Camilla is not a lesbian character. Camilla was, if anything, an opportunist, which is quite different from being a lesbian. If anything, the lesbians should wish for a character like Camilla to be killed off since she just preyed on a powerful lesbian in order to fulfill her heterosexual ambitions.”

    Did she forget she made Mimi, the lesbian character, an opportunist who was willing to f*ck a man to get what she wanted, yet again encouraging myths that lesbians deep down are into d*ck? Ugh, I hope that sellout will never have anything to do with any queer female storyline again.

    • The first comment on this article was almost “I like caviar on a cracker,” but I changed my mind at the last second. Regretting that now.

  19. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, for anyone who loves Marisa Tomei this should make it better:

    And for Taraji fans there is Person of Interest. I would recommend AHS for Naomi fans, but she didn’t get anything to do.

  20. actually one of the most biphobic episodes of television ever made.

    flip flop, flip flippety flop.

  21. I wonder if there are any writers out there right now just profusely sweating because they’ve already filmed a queer lady getting killed for their tv show and they’re just waiting for the social media shit to hit the fan. I like to picture them taking a morning shower and suddenly remembering that the episode is slotted to air in a few weeks, ruining their shower. I picture them drafting a crappy apology like the one what’s his name posted a few weeks ago for his transgressions with The 100.

  22. Oh my god Chaiken why are you like this

    I start the 100 and the kill off Lexa. I start Empire and they kill Camilla and Mimi. I’m afraid what to start next…Faking It might be a safe bet, death-wise?

  23. Ilene Chaiken is a biphobic talentless hack. If she never wrote another LGBT character again, it would be amazing.

    ….And the L word sucked.

  24. I’m getting to the moment where I’m glad Lexa got so horribly offed, inducing the #WeDeserveBetter movement and public discussion, only for like, almost every other show even remotely featuring a Lesbian/Bi character to totally, like absolutely and unforgivably step into it with their already filmed and scheduled episodes, within a month, no less.
    In my head it goes something like this:
    Us:”Oh noes, Lexa! Why do queer girls always have to die so randomly and horribly!!!We’re emotionally devastated!!”
    Straight producers/fans/directors:”You’re exaggerating.Get over it already.”
    *The Walking Dead,Vampire Diaries,Empire..*
    Straight people:”Holy Shit.”

  25. So I’ve reached some state of processing I’m gunna call “the Prosecutor” and am now going to compare Ilene Chaiken to the oligarchy and populist politicians of the Old South forever more.

    Because what she tried and failed to do was misdirect righteous outrage and angry away from her and on to a minority that historically taken much shit from not only straight people but the rainbow letter brigade.
    She tried to divide our community and set us against one another to save her own ass, to hold on to power and status.

    Somewhere and on someone it might have worked, but not here in this precious space on the interwebs where many have taken a stand and said

    Thank you everyone for doing a most awesome righteous you and objecting most clearly in your various fantastic ways.
    And yes please imagine this in the voice of Alex Cabot, or any other lady prosecutor from L&O franchise that you happen to fancy.

  26. Am I the only one that didn’t read Camilla as being actually bisexual at all? I never got any sense that Mimi was anything other than a means to an end for her, and the “heterosexual ambitions” statement seems to back up that take.

    Of course, “straight girl only pretending to be into women in order to use them” is a biphobic clusterfuck of its own and this lesbian isn’t happy about her death or how any of this went down. What a waste.

    (Mimi didn’t even APPEAR in the episode that killed her off! All we saw was like the back of a body double’s head! What kind of nonsense was that? Come the fuck on, show!)

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