Empire is no longer standing by its man. The Fox drama has suspended Jussie Smollett in the wake of the actor’s arrest for allegedly staging last month’s hate-crime attack against himself. Smollett’s sorta-dismissal comes as the Fox drama was winding down production on Season 5; there’s no word how his character Jamal’s absence in this season’s final two episodes will be explained.
In a statement, Empire EPs Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer said, “The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. 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.”
Smollett, who has played Jamal on the Fox drama since its debut, was arrested early Thursday in Chicago and faces a felony criminal charge of disorderly conduct/filing a false police report in connection with his alleged attack. At the time, 20th and Fox maintained, “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
In late January, Smollett reported to Chicago police that he was the victim of an early morning attack in which two men taunted the actor/singer with racist and homophobic slurs, then beat him, poured a liquid on him and placed a noose around his neck. Per Smollett, the men also referenced “MAGA,” or President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again”slogan, during the incident. The actor elaborated on the attack in a February Good Morning America interview, telling Robin Roberts that he’d been “forever changed” by what happened to him.
When later developments seemed to contradict Smollett’s account, his lawyers insisted that he played no role in the attack, and the show’s producers denied that his part on the series would be reduced as a reaction to the controversy. “Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set, and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the production company said in a statement at the time.
In a press conference Thursday, Chicago police alleged that Smollett hired two men to fake the attack because he was dissatisfied with his Empire salary. Shortly thereafter, the actor’s legal team released a statement saying,“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election. 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.”
Empire is scheduled to kick off the second half of its current fifth season on Wednesday, March 13.