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Empire was making headlines throughout its winter hiatus, but not for the best kind of reasons. Actor Jussie Smollett reported being attacked on the streets of Chicago, and his description of what happened resulted in the incident being investigated as a hate crime. The plot soon thickened, however, and Smolett was arrested for filing a false police report. Now, Empire co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels spoke out about the scandal, only hours before a new episode of the show, saying this:
These past couple of weeks have been a freakin’ rollercoaster. We have, me and my cast have experienced pain and anger and sadness and frustration and really don’t know how to deal with it. Everything has happened, which you are seeing tonight, prior to the incident. And this is not what the show was made for. The show was made to bring America together, to talk about the atrocities that are happening right now in the streets.
Lee Daniels' description of the scandal as a "freakin' rollercoaster" certainly fits the sequence of events that went down following Jussie Smollett's report of an attack. The immediate aftermath saw an outpouring of sympathy for Smollett from fans, Empire cast members like Taraji P. Henson, and producers. Then, rumors began to circulate that Smollett had staged the attack as part of a bold plan to score a higher salary. Fox blasted the rumors as ridiculous early on, but the story didn't stop there.
The investigation into Jussie Smollett's reported attack continued, and although he wasn't axed from the show, he was reportedly having scenes cut from the second half of Season 5. Then, less than a month after Smollett first claimed that he was attacked, he was arrested on charges of filing a police report, and he could face years in prison and heavy fines, although he was released on bail.
Only time will tell what will happen with regard to Jussie Smollett's legal case, but it didn't take long for Fox and Empire to settle on how to handle his character in the remaining episodes of Season 5. Although he wouldn't be edited out of the episodes that had already been filmed, Smollett was cut from the final two, which had not yet been completed at the time of his arrest.
Rumors of a recast for Empire Season 6 (assuming it scores a renewal from Fox) began to spread, but showrunner Brett Mahoney came out and said that it was too early for a decision about Jussie Smollett's future on the show to be made. If Smollett winds up going to prison, the show really isn't going to have a choice other than to write out or recast the character.
The spring premiere of Empire revealed a way that Jamal could be written out to accommodate any decision to axe Jussie Smollett from the show. If the ratings don't pick up, the folks at the show may have larger concerns than what will happen to Jamal. For now, you can catch new episodes of Empire on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.