Lee Daniels' Star follows the titular character (Jude Demorest), a young white woman, as she navigates the mostly black world of Atlanta in order to make it in music. Daniels recently raised eyebrows when he said he centered the show around a white lead because the country needed healing — and because he wanted to help "white people feel good about being white."
Daniels clarified his comments Wednesday at the show's panel at the Television Critics Association, saying that he meant "personal healing."
"Why am I putting a white girl in the middle of this black environment with a sister who is half black with an other singer who is an entitled very rich black girl with a transgender that is beautiful. Why am I doing that now? We're in a difficult time in America," he said. "I foresaw where would we be right now."
Watching the girls come together and aspire to reach their dreams is about healing, he said, adding that racism is "very real" and he'd experienced it firsthand. "I'm not going to let racism define me," he said. "That's all I'm going to say."
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Star will touch on racism and other hot button issues in upcoming episodes, Daniels said. The show is frequently a head-scratcher of a show, with sometimes confounding twists and turns as well as a thick gumbo of themes and messages. It's marked by in depth fantastical flights of fancy deep in the subconscious of characters that trigger song and dance numbers. It's inspired by Dreamgirls, Valley of the Dolls and Paris Is Burning.Queen Latifah, who plays a gospel-singing, gun-packing mother figure to the young girls, raps for the first time in a long time in the upcoming eighth episode, breaking out into rhyme to defend her trans daughter from a transphobic verbal attack.
"The songs vary based upon what's happening in the scene, whatever fantasy she's escaping to in her mind," Latifah said. "It's not the same as a musical in the sense that she has this number, that number. They're still fun. They're just as much fun as if I were doing a musical."
That said, believe it or not, she wants you to know Star is not a musical. Yes — it's packed full of over-the-top musical numbers, but unlike Daniels' other series, Empire, you shouldn't think about Star as a music-led show or as an homage to classic girl groups.
"There's something magical about seeing young women use their voice to express messages to people," Latifah said, "particularly other women. I hope Star can be the spark that ignites the girl group again."
Star airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Fox.