The Empire cast wants costar Jussie Smollett to return for the Fox series’ sixth season and they’ve collectively penned a letter of support, Variety reports. Smollett’s role in future episodes has been unclear following Smollett’s high-profile criminal scandal that involved the actor allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself while in Chicago earlier this year.
In January, Smollett reported that he was the victim of a vicious hate crime. After an extensive Chicago police investigation, Smollett was charged in early March with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly making false claims regarding the hate crimes, for which he pleaded not guilty. However, by the end of March, the charges were dropped as part of a deferred prosecution deal.
Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, and other Empire lead cast members wrote a letter dated April 19th that was addressed to the top brass involved in the show, including Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier, Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment chair Dana Walden, Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn, as well as Empire co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong.
“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 the ordeal,” the letter states. “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,” the letter continues. “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.”
The full letter goes on to cite others who have spoken to Smollett’s professional conduct, including the Black AIDS Institute, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the City Lights Orchestra. It concludes with a plea to keep him in 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 on into our sixth season as the Empire family should.” It’s signed by Howard, Henson, Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe and Nicole Ari Parker.
Earlier this week, news broke that brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo filed suit against Smollett’s lawyers for defamation. The brothers, who allegedly helped stage Smollett’s attack, claim that Smollett’s attorneys continued to falsely accuse them of attacking the actor, despite the investigation’s conclusion that Smollett allegedly orchestrated the attack. Smollett also faces a city of Chicago civil complaint, which seeks to recoup the money spent in police overtime during the investigation.