As Starz’s gritty New York City drama, Power, settles into its second season, fans are certainly anxious to see which moves James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), the drug kingpin-club owner, will make. He wants to go legit while juggling his wife, Tasha (Naturi Naughton), and his renewed high school love, Angela (Lela Loren), who is a fed unknowingly hot on his trail. He's also restoring the bond with his “brother” and partner in crime, Tommy (Joseph Sikora), when they increasingly don’t see eye to eye.
And the one person who knows how it will all pan out on the show—on which Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson acts and serves as executive producer—is Power’s creator and showrunner, Courtney Kemp Agboh. In an exclusive chat, the 2014 The Root 100 honoree, who holds degrees from both Brown and Columbia universities, sheds much insight on the show’s creation, its female characters and its overall impact.
The Root: When did you start to have the idea for Power?
Courtney Kemp Agboh: I had been working on a “blacksploitation” pilot of my own with a female lead, and my agent at CAA [Creative Artists Agency] knew that I was trying to write a real action show because that’s really what I wanted to do. As you can see from my IMDb page, there was nothing there that says, “Hey, this is a person who wants to write action” at the time. So I was doing that, and then 50 and Mark Canton [another Power executive producer] had been talking about doing a fast-paced music-driven series. Fifty was also agented at CAA.
So what’s funny is that usually people ask me, “How did you get 50 to do the show?” and I’m like, actually we came together in a Hollywood way. There’s no magical story. I had a concept of something that I thought I might want to do to talk about my dad. And then when I met with 50, we started to put Ghost together as an amalgamation of both my father and 50’s background.
TR: Your dad was an ad exec. Did that impact you as well?
CKA: Absolutely! My dad was a professional liar. It just isn’t a form of lying that we frown upon. It’s so funny, when I first read the pilot script for Mad Men, I remember calling my agent and saying there’s no way I would ever, ever want to work on this show because it was too close to home for me.
My dad believed that perception is reality, that however people perceived you to be—what you looked like, what you smelled like, how you talked—how that was really who you were. It took me a long time to realize how wrong he was, but that was how he lived his life. He always felt very much that if he wore the right suit and had the right vocabulary, he could get away with anything.
Now that I look back, it was the way he figured out how to survive as a black man in America. I may or may not get harassed, I may or may not get shot, I may or may not get discriminated against if I sound right, if I look right. It was actually a survival skill.
TR: In the first season, sometimes Angela seemed angelic and Tasha seemed more like a hood rat.
CKA: I disagree with that entirely. That characterization of the two of them is reductive. First of all, Angela is using a pedophile for most of season 1 to get information on somebody and letting him continue to sleep with a 14-year-old. How is that angelic? Please explain.
TR: In Ghost’s eyes they come across that way.
CKA: He’s not actually in love with the real woman. He’s in love with the idea of her, and he’s in love with how she sees him. He’s not in love with how Tasha sees him anymore because the way Tasha sees him is as the biggest drug dealer in New York City, and that’s not who he wants to be. His perspective on those two women is not related to who they are, and that’s a reality of men. A reality of men is that often they see us as reflections of themselves, as Adam’s rib. They don’t actually see us as human people.
That’s why a lot of times you will see women on television portrayed as if they’re not even people; they’re just cardboard. These women are incredibly realized, and we spend a lot of time making them rich individuals, but Ghost doesn’t see them that way.
And as for Tasha being a hood rat, Tasha is not a hood rat at all. I want to be really clear: To me it is deeply offensive to refer to Tasha as a hood rat. Tasha is a great mom. Tasha is an intelligent woman. Tasha is a math genius, and you’ll actually see more of that as time goes on. She’s really smart and she’s made some choices that come out of having a certain kind of background and having certain kind of values. But the show does not pass judgment on Tasha at all. In fact, Tasha to me is a hero, and you’ll see that as the show goes forward.
TR: You’ve been asked this a lot, but is the subsequent success of Empire validation?
CKA: There have been shows with complex characters of color for a while, but it’s just a question of when it reaches a critical mass, people want to talk about it. I just think the more time we spend talking about a trend, the more special we make it, the more we shoot ourselves in our own foot, because it’s not about that. It should be about the fact that TV is being made that represents what the world really looks like. I didn’t set out to make a show with hip-hop characters or represent any specific demographic. I wanted to tell a story about New York as it actually is.
Editor’s note: Power returns to Starz for its second season June 6, 2015.
Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.