In the month since Empire actor Jussie Smollett first reported being the victim of a possible hate crime in Chicago, the case has taken one increasingly bizarre turn after another, with Smollett himself ultimately being arrested on Thursday and charged with filing a false police report.
Smollett, who is black and gay, said he was attacked on January 29 by two masked men yelling racist and homophobic insults. But in subsequent news reports, various unnamed sources were quoted suggesting that police were investigating Smollett for orchestrating his own attack — a rumor that gained some credence once Chicago police announced on February 16 that new information had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” Smollett was ultimately arrested; now, two days later, the producers of Empire, whose production team originally staunchly defended the actor, have announced that they will excise all of Smollett’s scenes from the final episodes of the show’s current season.
Empire’s producers, including series co-creators Danny Strong and Lee Daniels, released a statement Friday morning confirming that they would be cutting the role of Jamal Lyon, which Smollett has played since the series’ debut in 2015, from the remaining two episodes of season five.
While noting their concern for Smollett, the producers stated that they’re also thinking about the rest of their cast and crew. “Jussie has been an important member of our ‘Empire’ family for the past five years, and we care about him deeply,” the statement reads. “We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
Ironically, Smollett’s dissatisfaction with his Empire role may have been his primary motive for allegedly orchestrating the attack to begin with. In a dramatic press conference on Thursday, representatives of the Chicago Police Department confirmed that they believed Smollett had set up the attack on himself because he was dissatisfied with his Empire salary. CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson expressed exasperation and bafflement that Smollett, who is black and gay, would exploit fears of racialized violence to advance his career.
An absolutely furious Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson: "I'm left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?" pic.twitter.com/DgkpitXpLp— David Mack (@davidmackau) February 21, 2019
Smollett’s case has become a flashpoint in the Trump era, as progressive movements to foreground survivors’ stories have met with controversy and pushback, and actual hate crimes have increased across the US. As Vox’s Amanda Sakuma and German Lopez noted, “The story has activated virtually every lightning rod issue dividing America today, from racism and homophobia to distrust in the media and politically motivated attacks.”
Regardless of Smollett’s motives in allegedly orchestrating the attack, the incident has bolstered the complaints of conservatives who feel they are frequently the victims of progressive hysteria, and increased skepticism about the reality of hate crimes at the expense of minorities everywhere.
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us,” the Empire producers stated. “While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out.”
Smollett continues to deny any involvement in setting up the attack, denouncing the suggestion that it was a hoax. A statement issued by Smollett’s lawyers following his arrest Thursday declared, ”Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”