'Empire' cast begs for Smollett's job, court of public opinion "unjust"

It’s all about family, you know. This is the message from the cast of ‘Empire’ as the end of season five approaches and the fate of co-star Jussie Smollett hangs in the balance. Smollett’s fellow actors are begging for his return for season six and blaming the “the extreme political climate in our country” for his career woes. This is my shocked face.

Thursday night’s episode of ‘Empire’ was the last one in which Smollett will appear this season. Some of the fall-out from his arrest and legal problems resulted in Smollett being erased from the show’s last two episodes of season five. He won’t be out of sight and out of mind, though, if his fellow cast members have a say in it. According to the show’s co-creator, Lee Daniels, his fate is “in discussions”, so the cast wrote a letter to the network and studio decision makers.

“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.

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.”

At the time of Smollett’s arrest and as his legal proceedings began, his co-stars were mostly silent, at least publicly, until Taraji P. Henson spoke up for him on ‘The View’. The interesting part of the letter to me is when the cast unequivocally state Smollett was found innocent, which he most certainly was not. The charges were dropped but he was never declared as innocent of the hoax he perpetrated. He still faces a civil suit over expenses the City of Chicago incurred throughout the ordeal. And, he is described as “honest”, which most people would question given he was charged with the whole hoax thing.

“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.”

‘Empire’ has never shied away from the hot button social justice issues and the actors take a political turn in the letter. It’s Trump’s America and this is what happens now. Every liberal scold is prefaced with a reference to the current political climate and this one includes that, too.

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.”

Actually, it was the “extreme political climate” that lives in Smollett’s mind that caused this whole drama. He created a hoax that made sense to him but to few others. Trump Derangement Syndrome is real and Smollett took it to the extreme by acting on it. Smollett is a political activist and he is apparently unhappy with his current salary. It must be Trump’s fault.

The show is a saga centering around a powerful music industry legend and his family, the Lyons. So, it is not surprising that the letter stays on brand and references family as they beg for Jussie’s return. In the Thursday night episode, Smollett and his boyfriend wed. As a side note, it is the first time two gay black men marry on a television show. Studio bigwigs haven’t commented on the letter of support. Season six isn’t completely certain yet but the show will probably be picked up for another season. Also in the mix, as far as Smollett’s future on the show is concerned, is a difference of opinion between Disney, who acquired Fox assets from 20th Century Fox TV, and the show creators. In other words, the show is controlled by two separate companies each with their own agenda. It’s complicated.

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.

If the decision is made to do away with Smollett, his character can always just go back to living in London as a convenient exit. Meanwhile, late night show host Trevor Noah thinks the writers of Jussie’s life should get a raise. He made the comment after the Nigerian brothers filed a defamation lawsuit against the actor’s attorneys this week.