Did Jussie Smollett’s Scandal Ruin ‘Empire’?

When word broke that Jussie Smollett was a victim of a brutal hate crime, people across the country were outraged. The attack didn’t just affect people in Hollywood, it created a nationwide debate about race, hate crimes, and politics.  

After it was revealed that Smollett may not have been 100% truthful about the events that occurred, viewers started to boycott and turn their back on the star

Who is Jussie Smollett?

Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett | Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Smollett has been acting on and off since 1991. In 1992, the 36-year-old appeared in The Mighty Ducks. He followed up the film by starring in the short-lived sitcom, On Our Own.

Though he had small parts off and on throughout the early ’90s and later in the late 2000s, he did not achieve widespread success until he landed the role of Jamal Lyon on the Fox drama Empire.

Smollett came out as gay during a 2015 interview on The Ellen Show. The actor says that he has never been “in the closet.” During the interview, the actor told DeGeneres:

“…there is without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in, and I just wanted to make that clear. But it was most important for me to make that clear to you on your show at this time in the world.  And that’s where I’m at.”

What is he accused of doing?

On January 22, 2019, Smollett reportedly received a threatening letter that was sent to Fox Studio in Chicago. The letter was handed over to the police to be investigated. One week later, Smollett reported that he was attacked

According to the actor, two masked men poured a liquid, believed to be bleach, over his head. The assailants also tied a rope around his neck and yelled racial and homophobic slurs. Additionally, the attackers also yelled “MAGA country” at the actor. 

The following day, the incident was all over the national news as the police searched for these men. In the following weeks, many people began to actor the questions claims and noted that he did not reference the “MAGA” calls until days after the event.

By February 16, police had arrested to Nigerian-born men in connection with the crime. 

Over the next few days, things started to unravel. The two men who had been arrested told the police that they had been paid by the actor to attack him. Smollett reportedly staged the attack because the letter had not generated enough attention for the actor. On February 20, the Chicago police charged the Smollett with providing a false police report.

One month after Smollett was charged, the Chicago district attorney announced that all charges had been dropped against the star. Fans, as well as the police superintendent and mayor of Chicago, expressed their outrage at the change of events, as many believed that the attack was indeed a hoax. 

Did Jussie Smollett’s scandal ruin ‘Empire’?

Ironically, Jussie Smollett allegedly staged the attack to attract publicity and increase his celebrity. However, the aftermath may have resulted in quite the opposite. Fox decided that Smollett would not return for the final two episodes of the show’s fifth season. 

Fox announced earlier this month that Empire will return for a sixth season, however, Smollett’s future with the show remains unknown. According to E! News, the network has negotiated an extension to the actor’s contract, but there are no plans for him to return at this point. 

After Smollett was cleared of all charges, the cast wrote a letter, urging Fox to keep Smollett onboard, citing him as an honest man “filled with integrity.” However, it appears that their support may not be enough.

In the episodes that followed Smollett’s charges, ratings dropped substantially. Although the show was renewed for a sixth season, just two weeks after announcing the renewal the network announced that the sixth season would be the last. The network noted dropping ratings after the mid-season premiere in making the decision. 

We’ll have to wait and see whether fans will tune in for the show’s final season. With Smollett out of the picture (at least for now), longtime fans will likely want to say goodbye. At this point, it’s hard to say that Smollett’s scandal did not play at least some part in Fox’s decision to end the show.