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‘Scream Queens’ Keke Palmer Dismisses Stereotypes

Halloween is approaching, and the Fox network is stirring suspense with its Scream Queens series, co-starring former JET cover star Keke Palmer.

The show, created by Ryan Murphy (Glee), poses itself as a satirical horror comedy set at the fictional Wallace University where Kappa Kappa Tau Sorority reigns supreme and becoming a pledgee is ideal.

But more than becoming sorors and frats, students are faced with a murder, which hasn’t struck the university in nearly two decades.

The lighthearted series packs on a few cultural jabs in the process – some of which have caused questions about the show’s verbal content and intent when incorporating racial undertones.

Just to give you a glimpse: The word “hoodrat” has been tossed, “white mammy” has been used to address another character’s maid and then there’s the name Zayday amid cast members named Chanel and Denise (Niecy Nash).

Keke portrays Zayday Williams, a witty Oakland-bred college freshman with a genius-level IQ pledging to be a part of the Kappa Kappa Tau Sorority.

She chalks up the skepticism to the writers and creators producing content that allows the cast to “have fun, joke and play on things that matter to millennials today, [while] at the same time giving you something grounded at the end of it all.”

She also encourages viewers to get to know the characters. “As the show develops more, people will see that the characters are not at all what you would think of at face value.”

Taking a break from shooting in New Orleans, the upbeat 22-year-old talks to JET about the critical eye when it comes to Black and Brown faces in mainstream television and what she’s loving about her involvement in Scream Queens.

JET:What are you enjoying about this character?

Keke Palmer: I’m just enjoying being able to do comedy again. I did a little bit of it on True Jackson VP. So it’s good to kind of transfer some of that into Scream Queens, which is much broader and more of a satire.

JET: Speaking of comedy, you get to work with Niecy Nash. Can you discuss what you all may be learning from each other in the comedic sphere?

Keke Palmer: I learned a lot from Niecy, because she’s been doing this for a while, especially in the improv realm. So I watch her and see where she pulls from. We play off each other a lot. The more comfortable I became with improv, the more fun we were able to have. She and I want to do a film together — something where we can do more of that comedy style. We had fun and it seems like the fans enjoyed it too!

JET: Scream Queens has been receiving flack due to some of the racial undertones noticed by viewers. Do you find that, as a Black actress, especially with the space we’re in when it comes to Black and Brown faces gaining more recognition in mainstream Hollywood, the script is pushing limits a bit when it comes to racial stereotypes?

Keke Palmer: I don’t think that they’re not necessarily pushing the limit. But I don’t think they’re doing it to only my character. I think they do it to everybody. I think all the characters have their moments where you’d consider it to be “stereotypes.” But ultimately, everything is done in good fun. I don’t feel like when I’m watching the show it’s, ‘Oh my God, Zany is so stereotypical’ or anything like that.

JET: Do you think that because of the lack of diversity in Hollywood, there’s critical attention being paid to Black and Brown entertainers and creatives?

Keke Palmer: Naturally, you’re sensitive to the things you take personally. As African American people, that’s reality. We don’t often get to see ourselves on television or doing something positive. That’s been for a while now. Having said that, we’re at a time now where we get to see, not only a lot of African-American people on television, but a lot of African-American women on television playing strong roles. And coming with that, people are going to be extra critical on certain things because this is the first time in a long time we’re getting to see some of that. We want to make sure it’s perfect. So, ultimately, we’re characters and playing roles and they’re going to have flaws just like humans have flaws. You have to really be able to look at a show and see the different stages of it before you can really say that something is being unfair or stereotypical.

JET: Switching it up. Halloween is approaching! Can you describe one of your most memorable Halloween moments?

Keke Palmer: I have one that my dad did to me when I was 11 or 12. I was really scared about Candyman. My dad literally went in the bathroom and said, ‘OK, I’m just going to go do it.’ So he said “Candyman” in the mirror five times and goes into the bathroom, closes the door, and starts screaming uncontrollably acting like he was about to get killed and stuff, and it scared the hell out of me!

Another moment where I wanted to be frightened [was when] me and my friends went to House of Horror night, and that was a lot of fun! You go and get to see the museum of all these different movies and a bunch of people come out trying to scare you. After a while, my friend started working there so it stopped being really scary to me, but when I went for the first time, it was very scary.

Scream Queens airs Tuesday nights, 9/8c on Fox.