Just a few hours before Jussie Smollett‘s final Empire episode of the season airs on Fox, his co-stars have penned a letter of support, asking the network to keep Smollett on the show for a potential sixth season.
Terrence Howard (Lucious), Taraji P. Henson (Cookie), Bryshere Y. Gray (Hakeem), Trai Byers (Andre), Gabourey Sidibe (Becky) and Nicole Ari Parker (Giselle) co-signed the letter, which was addressed to Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier, Disney Television Studios chairwoman Dana Walden and Fox Entertainment President Michael Thorn. Empire co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong are also addressed, as are several executive producers on the show.
“Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire,” the letter, which was obtained by our sister site Deadline, reads. The note goes on to call Smollett “honest” and “filled with integrity,” before detailing his many years of activism and charitable work.
“It’s clearer every day that the extreme political climate in our country has only made our system of justice and the court of public opinion more unjust,” the cast continues. “It is why now, more than ever, we must stand together as a family… It’s our hope that together we will move into our sixth season as the entire Empire family should.”
Following Smollett’s February arrest for allegedly staging a hate crime against himself, Empire producers opted to suspend the actor, removing his character Jamal from the final two episodes of Season 5. The show was also said to be mulling a recast of Jamal, should the show be renewed for Season 6. (A formal pickup has not yet been announced.)
In March, Chicago prosecutors suddenly dropped all charges against Smollett. At the time, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said they were “gratified” to learn of Smollett’s release, but there have not been any further developments regarding Smollett’s employment on the show.
Smollett’s final Season 5 episode, “Never Doubt I Love,” airs tonight at 8/7c on Fox. Read the Empire cast’s letter in full below:
Dear Charlie, Dana, Michael, Lee, Danny, Francie, Brian, Sanaa, Dennis, and Brett,
Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire.
We understand the past months have been difficult to process—sometimes the headlines brought more confusion than clarity, yet we now have a conclusion to this ordeal. Throughout Empire’s five seasons working with Jussie and watching how he has conducted himself throughout this traumatic event, we have come to know not just the character Jussie portrays, but also truly come to know Jussie’s personal character. He is kind. He is compassionate. He is honest and above all he is filled with integrity. He is also innocent and no longer subject to legal uncertainty with the criminal charges against him having been dropped. We are confident in his lawyer’s assurance that the case was dismissed because it would not have prevailed.
Jussie has shown us on and off the set who he really is as a leader. In addition to being a caring friend and cast member who treats every crew member with love and respect, he has spent time with our families and individually supported each of us. These recent and detailed letters from The Black AIDS Institute, the Rainbow Push Coalition and the City Lights Orchestra shine a light on his commitment to true community service. Just a few months ago, Jussie partnered with the Trevor Project to provide support to their volunteer program that allows LGBTQ youth in crisis access to vital counseling services. Prior to that, he gave every cent from his sold out world tour to numerous charities. He has adopted a school in Chicago, taught songwriting to incarcerated youth at the Cook County Jail last year and bought the family of Kayden Kinckle, a six-year-old, double amputee, a wheelchair accessible van due to his school district not having a wheelchair accessible school bus. He has traveled to South Africa for service as well as to Jamaica to quietly meet about the safety of LGBTQ youth. This was all done without posturing, the need for attention or even discussion.
This is the Jussie we know.
It’s clearer every day that the extreme political climate in our country has only made our system of justice and the court of public opinion more unjust.
It is why now, more than ever, we must stand together as a family. A family is there for us in good times and bad. It can cut through the noise and confusion to understand that there is a person in the center of all this who deserves nothing more than to move forward with his life. We understand that this show is a business. And that business matters to us as well. We are confident our fans will welcome our “Jamal” back into the Empire family as enthusiastically as we will.
That is why we write today to ask you to keep Jussie on the cast so that we can all put this behind us and move forward. Thank you for taking time to hear us. It’s our hope that together we will move into our sixth season as the entire Empire family should.
Taraji P Henson
Bryshere Y. Gray
Nicole Ari Parker