Jussie Smollett has been officially removed from Empire’s remaining season 5 episodes. On February 20, the actor was charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report about a January 29 attack in Chicago.
Since 2015, Smollett has appeared as Jamal Lyon on Fox’s musical drama. The character’s sexuality is a main storyline in season 1, and Smollett clarified his own sexuality during a March 2015 interview with Ellen DeGeneres. One week before the alleged 2019 Chicago attack, Fox reportedly received a letter that included a homophobic death threat against Smollett. On January 29, Smollett told Chicago police that he was attacked by two men who made “racial and homophobic slurs” before pouring an “unknown chemical substance" on him and wrapping a noose around his neck. Soon thereafter, Chicago investigators identified the persons of interest, Ola and Abel Osundairo, who were revealed to allegedly be part of hoax orchestrated by Smollett. According to reports, Smollett paid the Osundairo brothers with a check.
Per Variety, Fox has removed Smollett from Empire’s final season 5 episodes, this coming after the actor’s felony charge and subsequent arrest. The series’ producers released a statement about their decision, emphasizing the obvious distraction for those on set: “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.” Empire has yet to be picked up for a sixth season.
In pop culture, the tone of Smollett-related commentaries has shifted significantly since the actor's arrest. After news broke about the alleged attack, numerous celebrities used their social media platforms to support Smollett, who reportedly claimed that his attackers said "This is MAGA country.” Last night during TNT’s NBA halftime show, Charles Barkley offered a comedic commentary on the case, joking about Smollett's decision-making. In addition, various celebrities and media members have questioned Smollett’s intentions on Twitter, as the actor’s professional career now appears to be in jeopardy, along with his immediate freedom. For a class 4 felony conviction, Smollett faces one to three years in jail.
On February 14, an emotional Smollett appeared on Good Morning America to speak about the purported attack, and the investigation took a major turn two days later when the Osundairo brothers revealed that they had been paid by the actor. One of the men had previously worked with Smollett, according to reports, portraying a prisoner on Empire. Smollett’s bond was set at $100,000.