In a letter sent to Fox and ABC executives and producers Friday, six of the biggest stars behind Fox's hit show "Empire" demand the rehiring of Jussie Smollett despite the ongoing controversy and legal actions stemming from his alleged "hate crime hoax."
Just over a week after the City of Chicago filed a civil suit against Smollett for $130,000 for "his refusal to reimburse the City of Chicago for the cost of police overtime spent investigating his false police report on January 29, 2019," and just a few days before the two Nigerian-American brothers who say they helped Smollett carry out the alleged hoax sued the actor's lawyers for defamation, six of Smollett's fellow "Empire" actors — Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe, and Nicole Ari Parker — sent a letter to several Fox Entertainment and ABC Entertainment executives and producers involved in the series. The central claim of the letter: the actor has been completely exonerated and thus should be allowed to return to the show.
In the letter, sent on April 19 and obtained and published by Deadline, the "Empire" stars claim that the Smollett debacle has reached "a conclusion." The actor, they insist, is not only "innocent and no longer subject to legal uncertainty," he has demonstrated that he is "honest and above all he is filled with integrity" while suffering through this "traumatic event."
Though the Cook County State's Attorney's office did agree to drop the 17 felony charges against the actor without requiring an admission of guilt, Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, who made the widely criticized decision, has made clear that the office did in fact believe he was guilty. The City of Chicago's subsequent lawsuit against Smollett — filed by the city's Law Department a little over a week before the "Empire" cast's letter — alleges that Smollett "knew his attackers and orchestrated the purported attack himself," and "when police confronted him with evidence about his attackers, he still refused to disclose his involvement in planning the attack."
After listing Smollett's various social justice credentials, the cast issues what Deadline describes as an overtly "political" assertion about the circumstances surrounding his case: "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."
They conclude by calling on executives and producers to "keep Jussie on the cast so that we can all put this behind us and move forward."
The letter is addressed to Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier, DisneyTV Studios and ABC Entertainment chair Dana Walden, Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn, Empire co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, and other executive producers on the show, Deadline notes. Below is the full letter as published by Deadline:
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.
Taraji P Henson
Bryshere Y. Gray
Nicole Ari Parker