Fox says Smollett remains in ‘Empire’ cast, counters media report

February 20, 2019

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Jussie Smollett remains a cast member in the televised drama “Empire,” Fox Entertainment said on Wednesday, in a show of support for the actor after a report said he had staged an attack on himself because he was being written off the show.

Smollett, 36, last month told police in Chicago that two men shouting racist and homophobic slurs had accosted him on the street and put a rope around his neck. Smollett, an openly gay African-American man, also plays a gay man on the show.

The news sparked outrage on social media, but some questioned Smollett’s account when apparent inconsistencies began to surface.

ABC 7 Chicago last week quoted unnamed sources saying Smollett staged the attack to gain publicity because he was losing his role on “Empire,” a drama about a battle for control of a hip-hop musical empire.

But Chicago police said there was no evidence to support that report.

The company that produces the show issued a statement on Wednesday supporting Smollett. “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,” Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said.

Police have not found any surveillance video of the reported attack, which they said was being investigated as a possible hate crime.

Detectives last week questioned two unnamed men identified from surveillance camera footage showing two people walking on a sidewalk near where Smollett said he was assaulted. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Friday the two were released without being charged.

The case took another turn on Tuesday after Chicago police began investigating a tip that Smollett was seen inside his apartment building with the two men who were being questioned. Guglielmi later said the tip was “unfounded” and not supported by video evidence.

Guglielmi said on Sunday detectives were attempting to speak with Smollett again to follow up on his initial report of an attack on Jan. 29.

In an interview with Good Morning America that aired on Thursday, Smollett said he was angry that some people doubted his story, and he suggested the disbelief might stem from racial bias.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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