Nicki Minaj Is Here to Disrupt Family Programming

Nicki Minaj's new TV show could change everything.

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Complex Original

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On Tuesday, ABC Family announced that it’s partnering with rapper/singer-songwriter/boss-ass bitch/royalty Nicki Minaj to create a family sitcom about the star’s early life. It’s still in the very early stages of development, but it’s hard not to get prematurely hyped about the radical potential of a show centered on none other than Onika Maraj.

Kate Angelo, who wrote the Jason Segel/Cameron Diaz comedy Sex Tape, will pen the sitcom. Minaj will executive produce and star in the series, which “will focus on Minaj’s growing up in Queens in the 1990s with her vibrant immigrant family and the personal and musical evolution that lead to her eventual rise to stardom,” according to Deadline.

We might not know exactly what the show will look like, but given Minaj’s track record of subversion and defying expectations in her music career, it’s hard to imagine her show wouldn’t follow suit. She’s a fearless rapper who can go so fucking hard, but she also hangs onto sugary pop influences. Minaj contains multitudes, and for a while, she expressed her complexity in the form of over-the-top alter egos. But recently, and especially with the release of The Pinkprint, Minaj has stripped down her performance and introduced a softer and more introspective side of the artist (bangers like “Anaconda,” though remind you she’s still king).

There’s definitely a sense throughout The Pinkprint that Minaj wants to get more personal and really let people get to know her. Minaj has roots; she has history. Obviously, she hasn’t always been a real-life superwoman. Her show will introduce audiences to the young immigrant girl from Trinidad and Tobago who worked hard, pushed, and learned before ever becoming a mega music sensation.

And believe it or not, ABC Family is the perfect fit to tell that story. ABC Family is often a slept-on network, but for the past few years, it has been home to some of the smartest and most diverse teen dramas on television. Switched At Birth, despite its implausible initial premise and ridiculous title, is one of the more realistic family dramas on television. It’s also the only show committed to exploring the experiences of deaf individuals and the nuances within the deaf community. The Fosters, which is executive produced by Jennifer Lopez, continuously redefines what it means to be a family and is one of the most genuinely progressive shows on television and rarely pats itself on the back for it.

It should be noted that these examples are dramas, but Minaj’s show could, hopefully, be the network’s first real sitcom success. Anyone remotely familiar with Minaj’s life knows it wasn’t filled with the light and fluffy stuff that usually makes for easy comedy. But ABC’s black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat have both proven that you can deal with extremely serious subjects within the framework of comedy. In its second season premiere, black-ish took on the n-word, and as Pilot Viruet wrote at Flavorwire, “...the episode was equal parts hilarious and intelligent, providing even more proof of why diverse TV programs are utterly necessary.” Sometimes comedy can be the perfect tool for unspooling complicated issues that arise from race and identity, as another show, NBC's The Carmichael Show has also just proven. 

I, for one, am certainly sick of the brand of sitcom problems tackled in shows like Modern Family and The Goldbergs (Modern Family often tries to remind you it’s a “progressive” show, but it’s never nearly as radical as it thinks it is). We’ve seen all of those sitcom scenarios about a million times before. Fresh Off The Boat and black-ish diversify the family sitcom landscape by making its character’s identities a crucial part of the story. Fresh Off The Boat deals with problems specific to the experience of being an Asian-American family in Florida in the 1990s. A sitcom about Minaj’s life would similarly provide a family sitcom that doesn’t fit the whitewashed mold so many television series present as the “typical American family.” Also, the notion that a show about Nicki’s life would be better suited as a drama than a sitcom just because she has faced hardships is ridiculous. There is humor in struggle—it just requires digging a little deeper.

If Minaj’s show ends up being anything like her music, it will be complex and difficult to box into any particular genre. Minaj can pivot from poppy fun to going fucking hard in the blink of an eye. This is the woman who packed so much meaning and power into the two little words “what’s good.” This is the woman who turned her refusal to accept pickle juice into an inspirational speech about sexism and not settling for anything less than what you’ve earned. She straight-up politicized pickle juice! There’s no doubt in my mind that her show won’t go in when it needs to, even as it’s making us laugh. What sometimes gets lost in the internet chatter that pits Minaj against Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus are the really insightful and accurate criticisms Minaj has made about mainstream media and pop culture’s continued marginalization and erasure of black women. By developing a show about herself and her life, Nicki forces people to look and really see her.

Shortly after ABC Family made the announcement, #YoungNicki started trending on Twitter as Nicki’s fans started tweeting photos of young black girls at the star, suggesting that they could play her in her youth. This show has the potential to continue that magic, to let little girls picture themselves becoming someone as powerful and influential as Nicki Minaj. Minaj has been a strong role model for women by showing that women don’t have to be any one thing, by harnessing her own sexuality, and not bending to the expectations of others. With this show, Minaj can continue to be a role model for younger women who might be able to see themselves and their experiences reflected in the show.

WithEmpire’s astronomical ratings and black-ish’s lower but still strong viewership, there’s no doubt that stories about black families are necessary, and just as importantly, wanted. Minaj seeks to tell her story—the story of a young immigrant woman in Queens. There's an audience for that, and Minaj has the power to make people who aren't in her direct lane pay attention as well. While black-ish and Empire guarantee that stories about black families are being told every Wednesday night, television is still overwhelmingly white, especially in comedy. It’s far too early to make any conclusive statements about the politics and radicalness of Minaj’s show, but unfortunately, the fact that it’s in the works at all is still something worth celebrating.

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