The walls are quickly closing in on actor Jussie Smollett, who now faces the possibility of either being suspended or written off the show, "Empire," after being charged with a felony by Chicago P.D. for allegedly staging his own "hate crime."
According to an exclusive at Variety, Fox is now openly considering removing the actor from "Empire."
"Sources close to the production told Variety that producers are weighing whether to suspend the actor after he was charged Wednesday in Chicago with filing a false police report," reports the outlet. "A spokesperson for 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the series, declined to comment. Smollett’s status on the show may change amid a fluid legal situation."
The prospect of Smollett being booted off the show "Empire" is a dramatic turn of events, given that the show's producers and writers have generally stood by him throughout the ordeal — even when evidence began to show that Smollett may have staged his own "hate crime" against himself. As of yesterday, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment stated that Smollett was not being written out of "Empire."
"Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show," said the company in a statement.
Last week, when reports surfaced that Jussie Smollett staged the attack because his character faced being written off "Empire," executive producer Danny Strong wrote on Twitter, "There is 0% truth that @JussieSmollett was going to be written off of Empire. This rumor is totally false. He is the third lead and one of the most beloved characters on the show. Writing him off the show has NEVER even been discussed."
Variety reports, however, that while the producers have discussed the possibility of suspending Smollett, a "knowledgable source close to the situation said Smollett is expected by Fox to finish his work on the series despite the controversy that erupted around Smollett after he reported to Chicago police that he was the victim of a vicious hate crime."
Exactly how the makers of "Empire" will explain the rationale behind keeping Smollett on the show, if they intend to go that route, remains to be seen. In the meantime, the actor still has some prominent supporters who have not yet publicly denounced his alleged actions. Along with his siblings, Smollett's co-star Gabourey Sidibe, who plays the character Becky Williams on "Empire," announced on Wednesday that she still believes Jussie Smollett despite the mounting evidence indicating he may have pulled off a hoax.
"I know him, I believe him, I stand with him," Sidibe wrote on Instagram.
Her post was accompanied with a quote from Malcolm X warning that the "irresponsible media" could make a victim seem like a criminal. Smollett's siblings shared the same quote.
"This is the media, the irresponsible media," the post said. "It will make the criminal look like he's the victim and make the victim look like he's the criminal. If you aren't careful, the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing."
"Empire" executive producer Brett Mahoney also announced he stood by Jussie Smollett over the weekend, as more evidence indicated he allegedly staged a hoax crime. "I believe and stand by @JussieSmollett," Mahoney tweeted on Sunday night. "Keep your head up."
Later, the "Empire" writers' official Twitter account shared Mahoney's tweet in support of the beleaguered actor.