When Jussie Smollett said he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack on January 29, Empire co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels made an impassioned statement in a since-deleted video on Instagram, saying it was “just another f*cking day in America.”
“I’m beyond embarrassed,” he said. “I think that when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies. I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten.”
In the interview published online Tuesday, the Oscar-nominated director said Smollett is like a son, and he still has “some doubt” that the actor would stage an attack.
“Of course, there’s some doubt,” Daniels stated. “I’m telling you that because I love him so much. That’s the torture that I’m in right now, because it’s literally if it were to happen to your son and your child, how would you feel? You would feel, ‘Please, God, please let there be that glimmer of hope that there is some truth in this story.’ That’s why it’s been so painful. It was a flood of pain.”
The day of the attack, Smollett told police he was walking down a Chicago street in the dark, when two unknown offenders approached him and began yelling racial and homophobic slurs. The actor said the suspects beat him, wrapped a rope around his neck and said “this is MAGA country.”
Vulture reminded Daniels that Chicago police and the city’s local media alleged Smollett hired two friends to attack him, in hopes of getting a salary increase on Empire, leaving little doubt that the incident was a “hoax.”
“We weren’t there. I can’t judge him,” Daniels responded. “That’s only for the f*cking lady or man with that black robe and God. I had to detach myself and stop calling him, because it was taking away the time I have for my kids, the time I have for my partner. It was affecting my spirit and other shows, everything.”
Cook County prosecutors charged Smollett with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. The actor maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty. In a surprise move on March 26, the state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges.
The city is now suing him in civil court to recover more than $130,000 it claims to have spent on police overtime hours investigating the case.
Asked if he followed the extensive coverage in the Chicago Tribune, Daniels said there was no time.
“I didn’t read any of it,” he said. “I was too busy putting out fires.”
Following the attack, Smollett was written out of the final episodes on Season 5 of Empire.
Reports emerged last week that the embattled actor’s character, Jamal Lyon, was being re-worked into scripts for the Fox series’ sixth and final season. However, Daniels said the reports were absolutely untrue.
“Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire,” he tweeted on June 4.