You know how much I love "Power"! So you can only imagine how happy I was when the show's creator, head writer, and show runner, Courtney Kemp Agboh, agreed to an interview for ABIB. I liked her before our chat (in the same way that I like David Simon from The Wire) because she's created a show that I obsess over. But post-interview? I'm officially in love! In addition to being all things awesome, Agboh is a former magazine girl (just like me) turned Hollywood powerhouse (um, not me... yet).
I caught up with Agboh via phone as she was sitting in the dark in her LA office, finalizing a script for a Season 3 episode of "Power". (Hint: two characters pull guns on each other... again.) For 45 minutes we talked all things "Power", from Black women harping on Tasha's complexion, to Omari free-styling Jamie's primal scream, to Shawn's 17 extra lives— and much more.
Check out Part 1 of my interview with Agboh below!
ABIB: Where did the idea of “Power” come from? I read it was two shows kind of rolled into one?
Agboh: Mark Caton and 50 Cent had an idea for a fast paced music series. I was putting together a show about my dad. He died in 2011 and I was trying to work my way through that loss. My dad was not a drug dealer, but he was a self-made man, who was very invested in looks, and in perception being reality. Many of the building blocks for creating Ghost are based on those traits. Also, my favorite book, or one of them, is The Great Gatsby, so that figures into the show as well.
ABIB: I can totally see that. The “fake it til you make it” idea?
Agboh: That and the woman who got away that he couldn’t have, and when she comes back, only showing her the one side of him. All those things.
ABIB: How much input does Fiddy have on the show?
Agboh: Lots! We talk about everything. We have long phone conversations. He reads everything, but he doesn’t write, per se. But he is a writer. All rappers are poets. A lot of times we’ll be on the phone and I will literally write down exactly what he says and put it in the show.
ABIB: I know that you write most of the show, in addition to being the head writer and the creator and the show runner, but some of the reads on the show…. in the finale Tommy says to Ghost, “No matter how much your suits cost or how many clubs you ever own, you just a ghetto ass corner boy from around the way with a drunk for a daddy and no mama. You ain’t changed at all.” I’m like, Oh God. Pause the show. Is that all you or is that the collection of writers?
Agboh: I’m a very angry person. Just because I didn’t grow up with guns, doesn’t mean I don’t secretly go off in my head occasionally. As a writer, you get to have characters express things that you wouldn’t say out loud, you know? I’m wearing a pencil skirt and a little cardigan while we’re talking, but I just wrote a scene where one character pulls a gun on another. It’s part of the imagination, and that’s how I talk in my head.
ABIB: I love it! I wonder what you thought about the show’s comparisons to Empire? Fiddy was very vocal about it. Are you flattered to be compared to the other show or is it unfair because they’re comparing two shows just because they’re Black and they’re really not very much alike?
Agboh: It’s tiresome and bordering on racist. Nobody compares “Breaking Bad” and “Nashville”. No one says Dynasty was the same as Hill St. Blues. Those shows are so different. So many people approach me and ask me, ‘what do you think about Empire?’ I told 50 a while ago: "show runners do not make diss records. We don’t beef publicly. It doesn’t work that way." It’s just a show and we’re another show. I have much respect for Ilene Chaiken who is the showrunner over there. No one ever talks about her. I have respect for the actors. I think it’s an obnoxious comparison. I guess people have to make it and have to cover it but our show premiered a season prior [to Empire], so it’s at little like, “huh?”
ABIB: We hear a lot of talk about he disadvantages of being a Black woman in Hollywood, what are the advantages?
Agboh: The advantage is that people still think I’m a unicorn. So sometimes I get to have these experiences that other people don’t get to have. I get to mentor young Black women. I get to chose who I hire behind the camera. I get to say unpopular stuff out loud and have a platform. I get to say my truth.
ABIB: I know you’re very active on Twitter, but I’m not sure how closely you follow the TV recaps and blogs about the show. Has there been anything that audience latches on to and you’re just like “really, people?”
Agboh: My number one bugaboo is Black women that say Ghost is somehow dissing Black women by being with Angela. I’ve never told anyone else this, I’ll give you an exclusive. We were doing testing for the show, and when you do tests, you also do quadrants of people. There were a number of people who wrote when they first saw the pilot and said Ghost wouldn’t have been with a woman as dark as Tasha.
Agboh: And do you know who those people were?
ABIB: Black women.
Agboh: Black women! Why the hell do we hate ourselves so much that we would think that? Its’ so amazing what we do to each other, that we’ve internalized that much hate, and carry it around in ourselves. Ghost isn’t trading up with Angela. That’s his first love. That’s the one thing that I’m like, “Ugghhh! you’re missing something!”
The other thing is when people say Tasha is “ride or die”. If you go back to the first season, Ghost says to Tasha, “I want to be more” and she says, “What more?! We have everything!” He literally says, “Can you get on board? I want to go legit” and she says, “I don’t want to do that. I want you to be what I want you to be.”
ABIB: Sometimes I feel very sorry for Tasha. She has a man who wants more and she can’t see it. She is very limited in the way she thinks.
Agboh: Tasha is complicated. She once had ambitions of her own. She wanted to be a singer. She has half an accounting degree. But she decided to supplicate her desires and get on board with this man and she made a bad bargain with Ghost.
Tasha is one of my heroes on the show. Tasha is growing. What we see in the first episode, in the pilot, Tasha has the first line of the series. There’s a reason we start with Tasha. She says to Ghost, “Tell me I’m beautiful.” She doesn’t own her own beauty. She needs Ghost to tell her about it.
Over the course of the series what you’ll see is that she begins to figure out for herself her own worth and that her worth is beyond the outside package. At one point we talked about getting rid of the nails and the weave, then Shonda did that sh-- on HTGAWM and we were like nah, we’ll go another way. But we are going to explore the idea of who is Tasha under all that. She’s trying to navigate a situation with not a full set of maturity. One of the things that’s there if you look, those twins are 10 years old in the show; she just turned 30. So how old was she when she had them? She didn’t have a lot of childhood or post adolescence. She kind of hustled into this. We’ll see her grow.
Part 2 of my interview with Courtney Kemp Agboh will post tomorrow. :-)