'Empire' cast pens letter asking Fox to bring Jussie Smollett back to show after scandal
On January 29, actor Jussie Smollett told Chicago police that he was the victim of a racist, homophobic attack by two unknown men dressed in black. The perpetrators allegedly called Smollett slurs, struck him in the face, hung a noose around his neck and said, "This is MAGA country," a reference to Donald Trump's presidential campaign slogan, Make America Great Again. On social media, fans, celebrities and politicians expressed sympathy for Smollett, but the tide quickly turned when new details emerged.
After interviewing more than 100 individuals and reviewing hundreds of hours of surveillance footage, Chicago detectives discovered that the perpetrators of the attack were actually two black men, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo. The pair were caught on camera buying supplies for the so-called attack, and, what's more, were previously acquainted with Smollett. In a twist more shocking than any storyline on Empire, it appeared the actor staged the attack on himself.
A Cook County grand jury indicted Smollett on 16 federal counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report and making false statements to an officer and detective. In a press conference, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson claimed Smollett orchestrated the attack because he was 'dissatisfied with his salary' on Empire, and "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career." The actor faced the possibility of up to 48 years in prison, if convicted.
However, in another twist more shocking than anything on Empire, prosecutors dropped all charges. "All charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of the complaint against him," said his attorneys in a statement on March 26. "Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement."
As the public debated these bizarre turns of events, Empire fans wondered if Fox would bring Smollett back for season six. On April 19, Terrance Howard, Taraji P Henson and other cast members penned a letter to Fox executives, Disney executives and the show's producers. In the letter, which was obtained by Deadline, they request Smollett's return to the hit drama. Here's the full text:
"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.
"Terrence Howard, Taraji P Henson, Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe [and] Nicole Ari Parker"