Empire fans got their first glimpse of Demi Moore in the last few seconds of the show’s third season finale. She is just one of many big names in music, fashion, film, and television to grace Lee Daniel’s hit series. As an innocent-looking nurse with only a quick cameo, I hardly recognized Moore. But now that the fourth season is underway, her character is becoming more clear. As one of the few white people on the show built around Black people, Moore’s role is beginning to unintentionally play into a popular cinematic trope: the white savior.
At the end of Empire’s third season, Lucious (Terrence Howard) put his life on the line to save Cookie’s (Taraji P. Henson) and was badly injured in an explosion as a result. The last moment of the scene involved a time jump that teased Lucious’ injuries — he lost one of his legs and his memory — and Moore as Claudia, his new caretaker. In season 4, Claudia poses a direct threat to Cookie since Lucious no longer remembers who she is and how in love they were before Claudia showed up. And the new nurse isn’t doing much to help the situation.
Claudia’s official job is to help Lucious recover his memories and regain his physical strength after the accident. This is already a reach as it has Claudia playing physical therapist, psychologist, and general-care physician — but I learned long ago not to reason with Empire storylines. Anyway, Claudia is really careful not to overload Lucious. He is in a fragile state, made evident by his new prim and proper dialect, and observations that his old music was really violent. His nurse doesn’t want to overload him because many of his memories could be triggering for him. Murder is pretty traumatizing, so I understand.
However, in doing so, Claudia has taken a moral high ground on the people around Lucious. Without any memories before waking up in the hospital, his closest relationship is with Claudia. She has become the gatekeeper of his decisions and other relationships. As his family and friends try to nudge him back to his old self, Claudia is more invested in maintaining his innocence and keeping him pure of heart. This involves safeguarding him from all the “demons” that are trying to corrupt him and turn him into a “monster” — those demons are his family and lifelong friends.
It’s interesting that a white woman was cast to play Claudia — this is not at all a dig on Moore, who is an amazing actress and has had my heart ever since Ghost — as she is now personifying the white person with the heart of gold sent to save a person of color from the savagery of their own kind. It’s an outdated trope that is still evident in characters like Daenerys in Game of Thrones. So while Empire has effectively created some tension with its new character, the show may have overlooked the broader implications.
To be fair, Moore may very well end up being one of this season’s villains. For right now, though, she’s sitting firmly on the opposite end of the spectrum, and it’s just as creepy.