Power on: Behind the ambitious plan to turn the hit series into TV's next MCU
“It’s not Power," says creator Courtney Kemp of Power Book II: Ghost. "It’s really about how Ghost's shadow looms over everyone — especially his son.”
Ghost (Omari Hardwick) may be dead, but Power lives on.
Just months after wrapping her groundbreaking hit Starz series about a drug dealer’s unsuccessful mission to go legit with the “saddest ending of a television show ever,” creator Courtney Kemp says she’s taking inspiration from the Marvel Cinematic Universe for her ambitious four-spin-off plan. “A lot of people [said], ‘Why don’t you just call this Power season 7?’ ” says Kemp of Power Book II: Ghost (debuting Sunday), which picks up in the aftermath of Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.) murdering his father, and his mother, Tasha (Naturi Naughton), taking the fall. “It’s not Power; it’s really about Ghost's absence and about how his shadow looms over everyone — especially his son.”
There may not be a more passionate fan base than Power viewers, who, for better or worse, have never been shy with their opinions. While that engagement has helped turn the show into the powerhouse it has become, stars like Rainey and La La Anthony have both spoke to EW about the negativity that has come their way due to aggravation over the actions of their fictional characters (Rainey has dealt with hundreds of death threats on social media). And, unsurprisingly, the reactions to the divisive finale reached Kemp as well. "50 [Cent] said to me, 'People aren't going to like it because it's over,'" she recalls of a conversation with her executive producer and star. "There were a lot of people that would have preferred that Ghost get a happy ending and rode off triumphant into the sunset. I just felt uncomfortable with having had a character do so many horrible things and being so unrepentant and not having him get punished for it."
And by choosing to put the “young and arrogant” Tariq — perhaps Power’s most controversial character — front and center, Kemp once again knows she isn’t taking the easiest road. "Oh, of course it crosses my mind," she admits. "There’s an easier way to do this, right? You just do a lovable, cuddly-like Tommy [Joseph Sikora] series — which we’re going to do. Well, it won’t necessarily be cuddly. [Laughs] But there’s low hanging fruit here and I’m not going for it." Speaking of Tariq, Kemp points to his “very millennial energy" and penchant "calling people out on their bulls---" as a reason for the backlash. "People sometimes forget that Ghost was a little motherf---er too," she says with a laugh."There’s so much to tell about legacy and how you can’t outrun who you are. I do think that if people get to know this version of Tariq, who is confused and alone and has so much pressure on his shoulders, they will see that all he’s trying to do is survive, which couldn’t be more relatable.”
While Tariq deals with the pressure of supporting his remaining family, his portrayer is trying to navigate going from the young child of the lead character to being the lead character himself. "At first, it was 50 who told me, he was like, 'You know, you're going to have your own responsibilities and your own show," says Rainey, 19. "I thought he was just messing around and I didn't take it as serious. Then, when Courtney told me, I was like, 'Wait, 50 isn't f---ing around. This is really it, I've got this show on my back now.' I was a little nervous, but I was also excited to take on the responsibility."
When it comes to killing Ghost, Rainey says Tariq “did what he had to do" in order to have a future. But the patricide will “haunt him” as he tries to free the imprisoned Tasha, who refuses to let him confess. “She’s made a choice, like many mothers would, to do what’s best for her son,” says Naughton. "I know he’s wrong, I know he’s been a hot mess, a child who doesn’t listen, he does whatever he wants, but, at the same time, he’s just like his father. So, in a way, we can’t fully blame Tariq, because we created this monster." She adds that Tasha and Tariq will now "forever be connected in a new way" following Ghost's murder: "We are exploring mother and son as true partners."
Just as surprised as Rainey was when told that he was getting his own series, Naughton was equally shocked when Kemp told her from the very beginning of Power that Tasha would be the last man standing. "I just remember Courtney explaining to me the importance of my character really representing women, and particularly African-American women who have always tried to be the matriarch of the family and tried to stick it out in their marriage, even if there is dysfunction," says Naughton of a mindset that she believes all women can relate to. For Kemp, it's something she brought to the page from her own life. "I became a single mother over the course of writing Power, and I found myself in this place of guilt and constantly trying to give my child enough," she shares. "If you’re not healthy, which I think Tasha cannot be and sometimes I’m not at my healthiest, you take on more responsibility for your child’s happiness than you should. And you wonder, 'What decisions have I made that have ruined this kid?'"
In addition to being in lockstep about Tasha's crucial role, Kemp and Naughton both cited the chance to continue employing writers, actors, directors, and producers of color as part of the decision-making process to continue. "I'm a Black woman in Hollywood who knows that sometimes the opportunities are few and far between," explains Naughton. "These kinds of roles don't always come to us — and I'm grateful when the good ones do."
By the end of Power, Tasha wasn't necessarily the last man standing, but she was essentially the last woman standing as the bodies of Angela (Lela Loren) and LaKeisha (Anthony) piled up. But Ghost is getting a much-needed injection of strong (and glamorous) female power in the shape of Oscar-nominee Mary J. Blige. As Tariq balances college and caring for his sister and grandmother, he’ll find a different parental figure in drug queenpin Monet Tejada (Blige). Since secret-keeping doomed the St. Patricks, Kemp wanted to portray a family “openly in the [criminal] life.”
"I liked the idea that there were people in our story that were like, 'Yeah, and?'" says Kemp. "I also wanted people to really see Mary in the way that I see her, which is she’s a survivor. Monet is a woman who has survived a lot: her husband is inside and she has inherited his business and he’s still in control, she’s trying to navigate that. She’s also trying to navigate having sons who are men and a daughter who is becoming a woman and trying to teach this girl how to become a woman in the world as you see it. She is based on a whole bunch of woman who I’ve read about or we know about, women who are in the life and become hardened by it, become toughened by it."
But whether you’re a returning star or a Grammy winner like Blige and fellow new addition Method Man, Naughton knows that there are no guarantees in this Power-ful world. “Ghost being killed was a shock. How do you kill the main character?” she asks. “Anybody can go.”