It’s official — Variety’s report that Jussie Smollett would return to Empire turned out to be … a hoax? Maybe not that harsh, but the series’ co-creator Lee Daniels finally and definitively put the rumors to rest. Empire will walk away from the man who walked away from a hate-crime hoax scot-free:
— lee daniels (@leedanielsent) June 4, 2019
Give Variety credit for revising their original report and noting the change:
“Jussie [Smollett] will NOT be returning to ‘Empire,’” series co-creator Lee Daniels said Tuesday.
Daniels was responding to a Variety report in which multiple production sources said that “Empire’s” writing staff was breaking ideas for the show’s sixth and final season with the expectation that Smollett would appear in the back half of the 18-episode season.
This is the first public acknowledgment that Smollett will not return for the final season of the Fox drama series. He was written out of the final episodes of the show’s fifth season following severe backlash stemming from accusations the actor and musician faked a hate crime against himself earlier this year in Chicago.
The issue has apparently created a rift between the cast and crew. The cast sent a signed letter to the producers demanding Smollett’s return, while the crew wasn’t buying Smollett’s story. Variety suggests that racism might be the explanation:
The same production sources also note tensions were ratcheted up on set between the show’s primarily black cast members, who still believe Smollett is innocent, and the mostly white below-the-line crew, many of whom believe Smollett is guilty.
That’s a curious way to look at this — not to say it’s not an accurate report, but still curious. Isn’t it more likely that the division is between Smollett’s colleagues and friends, and the people who aren’t his colleagues and friends? Racism isn’t a very good explanation in this case anyway. The leadership of the Chicago police department is African-American, as seen in their angry press conference after the joke of a deal Smollett got from Kim Foxx. The two brothers who admitted to perpetrating the hoax with Smollett are also both African-Americans. Which should we believe in order for racism not to enter into the decision?
We won’t need to spend too much time mulling that question, however. Later this week, the police will release 70 hours of surveillance videos and bodycam footage, thanks to the unsealing of the Smollett case. Daniels likely anticipates that the evidence collected by the police will make Smollett look even worse than ever and wants to get out ahead of that, regardless of what the cast thinks. Perhaps they might even change their minds by the time Empire starts its final-season shooting schedule.