Jussie Smollett Should Be “Brought Back” For ‘Empire’s Next Season, Taraji P Henson & Terrence Howard Tell Disney, Fox

Taraji P Henson Terrence Howard
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EXCLUSIVE: Empire co-creator Lee Daniels told a New York City morning show Wednesday that the fate of Jussie Smollett on the Fox hit is “in discussions” right now, but Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard and the rest of the series’ top cast have already made their decision.

“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,” the Oscar nominees and the rest of the portrayers of the Lyon clan wrote in an April 19 letter obtained by Deadline that was sent to Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier, Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment chair Dana Walden, Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn, Daniels, Empire co-creator Danny Strong and various executive producers on the series. (Read the full letter below.)

Reiterating the support and intentions Henson briefly expressed on April 4 on The View, the correspondence signed by Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe and Nicole Ari Parker among others adds, “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.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - March 20: Jussie Smollett, At Spring Premiere Of FOX's "Empire" At The Pacific Theatres at The Grove In California on March 20, 2017. Credit: FS/MediaPunch /IPXContinuing to insist on his innocence, Smollett, who plays middle son Jamal Lyon on Empire, saw 16 felony charges erased on March 26. Facing potentially years behind bars for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself on January 29, he instead forfeited a $10,000 bond and was given credit for a then recent stint of 20 hours of community service.

The letter inked by the key cast was drafted in part by individuals close to Smollett, I hear. Tonight’s “Never Doubt I Love” episode of Empire, featuring a wedding between Jamal and Kai (Toby Onwumere) is the last one in which Smollett will appear this season — it’s unclear whether it will be the last time Empire fans ever see him.

“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,” the letter reads. “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,” it continued. “We are confident in his lawyer’s assurance that the case was dismissed because it would not have prevailed.”

Then they get political: “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.”

Fox and Disney TV Studios had no comment on the cast letter when contacted by Deadline.

Already written out of the final two episodes of the series’ current fifth season because of early uncertainty over his legal status and public reaction, Smollett’s option on the show is up in late June. While sources say a sixth season of Empire is almost a certainty, Fox actually has until next month to officially decide whether it wants to bring the series back. In that context, the past several weeks have seen a number of high-level meetings conducted as Collier and other execs try to find a consensus solution with EPs about Smollett’s future.

The situation is made all the more complex now that the $71.3 billion Disney acquisition of Fox assets like Empire producers 20th Century Fox TV has gone through, and the makers of Empire and the network that broadcasts the show are owned by two separate companies — each with its own distinct agenda and emotions on the Smollett matter.

The possible division is hinted at in the letter.

“It is why now, more than ever, we must stand together as a family,” Henson, Howard and the other top cast write.

“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.”

That overall effort to move forward has not been aided by the spiraling situation back in Chicago after charges against Smollett were dropped late last month.

With immediate outrage from the rarely partnered likes of Donald Trump, soon-to-be departing Mayor Rahm Emanuel plus the Chicago Police Department, the First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told local media he did believe Smollett was guilty of staging the assault himself. Handling the case after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself under what has become increasing criticism, Magats also said the deal and the sealing of the case did not exonerate Smollett in any way.

Since then, new lawsuits have gone back and forth, with the city going after Smollett after the actor declined to repay $130,000 for the costs of the investigation. Alleged attack collaborators Ola and Abel Osundairo on Tuesday sued Smollett’s lawyers Mark Geragos and Tina Glandian for defamation, claiming “their continued false statements and rhetoric have only deepened the damage that was caused by the very first out of 16 counts of lies that were told to the police that started this whole situation.”

Though Smollett is not named as a defendant in the latest suit, it does complicate the already complex situation of his Empire fate, a network insider tells me.

“It’s causing a dilemma,” as Lee Daniels said on Good Day New York this morning of the lawsuit from the city of Chicago and more. The letter from the Empire cast reveals dilemma may be a mild way of putting things.

Here’s the full letter:

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.

SINCERELY,

Terrence Howard
Taraji P Henson
Bryshere Y. Gray
Trai Byers
Gabourey Sidibe
Nicole Ari Parker

This article was printed from https://deadline.com/2019/04/empire-cast-crew-letter-jussie-smolett-return-fox-disney-1202601208/