Why Does Star Keep Slut-Shaming Its Main Character?

Photo: Courtesy of Wilford Harewood/FOX.
Lee Daniels is running a tight ship over at FOX. Wednesday night saw the season premiere of two of his shows. The hip-hop soap opera that is Empire came back for its fourth season. And Star, his project about an aspiring girl group in Atlanta, immediately followed with its season 2 opener. To keep things both interesting and efficient, there was crossover between the characters from both shows, and the time jump for both premieres was about the same. And while things appear to be very different for the Lyons, Carlotta’s (Queen Latifah) group is right back into the swing of things, especially for Star (Jude Demorset), the show’s titular character.
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In one of the first scenes, Star is in bed with the president Jay Holland (Mike Epps) of the group’s new record label. Five months after being signed, the label still hasn’t put any effort behind their debut album. By sleeping with him, she has taken matters into her own hands to try to advance their singing career. It’s a move that Star has pulled before on the show — using her sexuality to get ahead — and in the first first episode it’s the source of some tension between her groupmates and god-momager, Carlotta.
Last season, Star was confronted by her groupmate Alexandra (Ryan Destiny) about being “a hoe” because Star slept with Alexandra's rock star father Roland (Lenny Kravitz — can anyone blame her?). Part of Alex’s disgust was understandable, it was her dad, after all. And Star did it partially to help the group, but partially out of spite as well. But during this conversation, Star revealed that as a ward of the state, transactional sex was a means of survival that she was able to hone into a useful skill. It was neither a pathologization or a glorification of her willingness to leverage her sexuality, it was simply a reality. Alex has nepotism on her side. Star has sex.
I was hoping that this would make way for a more nuanced conversation about Star’s sexuality moving forward, but that moment didn’t come. “That’s not how you get respect as a woman in this industry!” is what Carlotta yelled to Star during Wednesday night’s premiere after she found out that she spent the night with the label head. This was followed by over a minute of jabs about Star keeping her legs closed. Everyone in the room with them laughed. The slut-shaming quickly transitioned from professional advice to morality and respectability in a way that served no purpose but to make jokes.
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What stands out to me about the way Star’s sexuality is treated is that she isn’t the only person in Carlotta’s household engaging in transactional sex. Cotton (Amiyah Scott), Carlotta’s daughter, is trans and worked as a stripper and full-service sex worker in order to raise money for gender-affirming surgery. Because Carlotta is a devout Christian (that is not above murder), she’s not happy about her daughter’s choice of work, either. However, Cotton’s work is taken seriously by everyone else. People seem to understand her need to have sex for money more than they do Star’s.
This inadvertently recreates the exceptionalist narrative that some forms of transactional sex are okay, while others are not. This should not be the case. I reject any stipulations placed a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, for whatever outcome.