Empire star Jussie Smollett was once best known for his performances on the hit Fox show, but he’s been making headlines over the last month for different reasons. Back in the end of January, Smollett claimed that he had been attacked while on the streets of Chicago, and the case was originally investigated as a hate crime. In the weeks since, suspicion shifted to Smollett, and he has been arrested. Now, Fox and Empire have decided how to handle the situation as it relates to Season 5 of the show.
20th Century Fox revealed the latest on how the situation is being handled in a statement, saying this:
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.
The statement (as posted on 20th Century Fox's official Twitter account) was signed by co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels, co-creator and executive producer Danny Strong, and executive producers Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo, and Dennis Hammer. The statement comes less than a week after Brett Mahoney took to his own Twitter account to share that he believed and stood by Jussie Smollett. Of course, a lot has happened in the past week.
After rumors abounded that Jussie Smollett was being investigated for filing a false police report rather for days, he was arrested on February 21. Allegedly, the actor paid a pair of brothers to stage the attack and then filed the false police report, and he stands charged with a felony for disorderly conduct. Authorities aren’t releasing all of the details of the case, but they apparently accumulated enough evidence that Smollett’s arrested was warranted. He turned himself into the authorities. Smollett has since been released on bail.
Some suggested that Jussie Smollett staged the attack because Empire planned to write his character out; Fox, co-creator Danny Strong, and the Empire writers all shot down that particular rumor and stated that no plans had been in place to end Jamal’s story on the show. The plan seemed to be to keep Smollett on board as usual. A few days later, it was reported that some of his scenes in the then-filming penultimate episode of Season 5 were being cut, including a musical performance.
The latest statement proves that the show went further than just axing a musical number and cutting his scenes. Jussie Smollett will be absent from the final two episodes of the season, which must have required a lot of scrambling from the writers. Still, Fox maintained that Smollett was still on Empire.
Now, Jussie Smollett being cut from the last two episodes of Season 5 doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s being fired from the show, although nobody will have a choice in the matter if he’s found guilty of the disorderly conduct charge. Such a verdict could result in up to three years in prison. Will Fox keep him in the Empire cast?
It is difficult to imagine Empire without Jamal after he’s been such a key part of the five seasons that have aired so far, and his absence in the final two episodes of Season 5 could leave a noticeable hole in the stories being told. Still, this is an ugly situation that may only get uglier. We’ll have to wait and see what’s in store next.
Empire returns for the second half of Season 5 on Wednesday, March 13 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox. Swing by our midseason TV premiere schedule for some additional viewing options now and in the not-too-distant future.