Jussie Smollett's character will be removed from Empire episodes, producers say

The producers of the TV show Empire said Friday that Jussie Smollett's character will be removed from the final two episodes of this season "to avoid further disruption on set" after the actor was accused of faking a racist, anti-gay attack on himself in Chicago.
Jussie Smollett is shown in a booking photo taken by the Chicago Police Department on Thursday after the actor turned himself in. (Chicago Police Department/Associated Press)

The producers of the TV show Empire said Friday that Jussie Smollett's character will be removed from the final two episodes of this season "to avoid further disruption on set," after Smollett was accused of faking a racist, anti-gay attack on himself in Chicago.

"While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of 'Jamal' from the final two episodes of the season," Empire executive producers, who include Oscar-nominated director Lee Daniels and Ron Howard collaborator Brian Grazer, said in a written statement.

Empire is filmed in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry. Smollett's character, Jamal Lyon, is a talented R&B singer who is gay, something that causes friction with his hip-hop mogul father, played by Terrence Howard. Smollett's portrayal of Jamal initially drew much praise for helping break down stereotypes for gay black men.

Prosecutors charged Smollett late Wednesday with felony disorderly conduct — the charge that is used for filing a false police report. He turned himself in to police Thursday and was jailed until an afternoon court appearance.

Prosecutors say Smollett gave detailed instructions to the accomplices who helped him stage the attack in January, including telling them specific slurs to yell, urging them to shout "MAGA country" and even pointing out a surveillance camera that he thought would record the beating.

"I believe Mr. Smollett wanted it on camera," police Supt. Eddie Johnson told reporters at a Thursday morning news conference. "But unfortunately that particular camera wasn't pointed in that direction."

Smollett's legal team issued a statement Thursday night, calling the actor a "man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence." The statement called Johnson's news conference "an organized law enforcement spectacle."

"The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett," the statement read.

Police said Smollett planned the hoax because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to promote his career. Before the attack, he also sent a letter that threatened him to the Chicago studio where Empire is shot, police said.

Smollett is earning more than $130,000 per episode, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because salary details were involved. The studio declined to comment on the actor's salary.