Testing the notion that there is no such thing as bad publicity, Empire co-creator Lee Daniels today held nothing back in talking about the impact on the Fox drama of Jussie Smolletts alleged fake hate crime.
“These past couple of weeks have been a freakin rollercoaster,” the executive producer and Star boss said on social media Wednesday, just hours before the latest episode of Empire aired on the Rupert Murdoch-owned network.
“We have, me and my cast have experienced pain and anger and sadness and frustration and really dont know how to deal with it,” a clearly agitated Daniels said of the early-morning January 29 “incident” that could now see Empire star Smollett facing up to three years behind bars and tens of thousands in fines if convicted on disorderly conduct charges.
“This is not what the show was made for,” the Oscar-nominated director added of how the case seemingly has dominated all discussion of Empire, which returned for the second half of its fifth season on March 13. “The show was made bring America together, to talk about the atrocities happening right now in the streets,” Daniels declared in the self-shot commentary – check it out below:
While similar in temperament, todays remarks by Daniels are night and day from his strong support on the day of the supposed attack for the actor who plays openly gay Jamal Lyon on the hip hop drama Daniels co-created with Danny Strong. “You didnt deserve, nor anyone deserves, to have a noose put around your neck, to have bleach thrown on you, to be called die f*ggot n*gger or whatever they said to you,” Daniels said on social media on January 29 to Smollett, whose character is based in a number of ways on the EP himself.
“Hold your head up Jussie,” the Precious helmer shouted out as the Chicago Police referred to the matter initially as a “potential hate crime.”
“Im with you. Ill be there in a minute, because its just another f*cking day in America.”
In court again on March 14 to plead not guilty to charges from Chicago prosecutors, the Mark Geragos-represented Smollett consistently has maintained his innocence to accusations that he staged the racist and homophobic assault.
After Smollett was arrested on February 21, Chicago prosecutors read out in court a lengthy series of text messages between Smollett and brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo that painted a picture of a clearly pre-planned attack. Far from the racist and homophobic assault Smollett first described in late January, the texts detailed preparing money to buy supplies, buying drugs, setting up meetings and ensuring that MAGA hats and chants were part of the assault.
Currently out on $100,000 bail, Smollett is featured in the long ago filmed “In Loving Virtue” episode airing tonight but has been written out of the final two episodes of Season 5 of Empire. With court appearances likely to be dominating his schedule over the coming months, there is no official word if the actor will be returning for more Empire if the Terrance Howard- and Taraji P. Henson-led show is renewed, as expected.
The huge attention that the case has received did not translate into a big turnout for Empires midseason return last week. The “My Fault Is Past” episode fell to the second-lowest ratings ever for the show.
Back in court the day after that midseason premiere, Smollett is due before a Windy City judge on April 17.