Jussie Smollett's next starring role will be set in a courtroom.
The “Empire” actor’s trial on disorderly conduct charges in connection with his career-altering “hate hoax” in January 2019 will finally begin Monday after months of legal twists and turns.
Smollett, 39, claims he was attacked by two men on Jan. 29, 2019 in downtown Chicago. The openly gay Black actor told police the men hurled homophobic and racist slurs at him, put a rope around his neck and told him he was in “MAGA country.”
But after investigating, Chicago cops told a different story: Smollett paid $3,500 to two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, to stage the attack, police said. The Osundairo brothers worked with Smollett as extras on the Fox TV series “Empire,” about a fictional hip-hop music company. .
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson called it a “publicity stunt” by Smollett to advance his career, claiming he was unhappy with his salary on “Empire.” The actor was arrested a few weeks later, and the fallout was immediate. He was written off “Empire” amid the bad publicity and hasn’t appeared in any TV shows or movies since.
Smollett has since produced and directed his own film, “B-Boy Blues.” On Nov. 19, he appeared at his first red carpet since the alleged attack, showing up at the AMC Magic Johnson Harlem theater to promote the movie.
Whether victim or hoaxer, Smollett found himself at the center of a huge controversy, with some people standing by the actor while noting the Chicago Police Department’s reputation for brutality, while others said his allegedly staged attack made life harder for everyday Black and LGBT+ people who are assaulted and ridiculed.
”Despite the inconsistencies, I can’t blindly believe Chicago PD,” director Ava DuVernay tweeted. “The department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times? That operated an off-site torture facility? That one? I’ll wait.” Black teenager McDonald died after being shot 16 times by a white officers in 2014.
Actor and Chicago native Lena Waithe defended Smollett, saying that “being queer and Black is like having a target on your back every time you walk out the door.”
Smollett’s supporters celebrated in March 2019 when the charges were dropped as part of a plea deal. In exchange, Smollett did community service and forfeited his $10,000 bond. Prosecutors said the deal “did not exonerate” Smollett, and a Cook County judge ruled an independent prosecutor would reinvestigate the case, meaning Smollett could still face prosecution “if reasonable grounds exist.”
But police and Chicago’s then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel were furious.
“This is a whitewash of justice,” Emanuel said. “A grand jury could not have been clearer.”
Authorities didn’t give up on the case, appointing former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as a special prosecutor in 2019. Based on Webb’s investigation, a grand jury revived the charges against Smollett in February 2020, hitting him with six counts of disorderly conduct.
Smollett has tried and failed multiple times to have the new charges dismissed. He has maintained throughout the entire process that he was the victim of a crime.
“I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of,” he said in March 2019.
The Osundairo brothers are reportedly ready to challenge that claim and testify at Smollett’s trial.
Smollett’s lead attorney on his new defense team, Nenye Uche, called the case a “character assassination” and said evidence would prove his client’s innocence.
[via New York Daily News]