Empire creator Lee Daniels blames Jussie Smollett for the cancellation of the hit TV show and has cut him out of his life.
In a lengthy interview with Vulture, Daniels is asked: “It was a little surprising to learn that Fox was ending Empire. Do you think the Jussie situation played a part in that decision?”
Without any apparent hesitation, Daniels answers, “Certainly, that played a major part.”
Although he refused to say he Smollett is outright lying about being the victim of a hate crime, Daniels did admit to being “beyond embarrassed” for initially believing him and that he does “doubt” Smollett’s now-debunked story about being the victim of two white, racist and homophobic Donald Trump supporters last January:
[VULTURE]: The reporting that’s emerged about the Jussie Smollett case suggests that he faked a racist, homophobic mugging in order to get paid more money on Empire. You initially publicly supported his story. … Are you embarrassed?
[DANIELS:] I’m beyond embarrassed. I think that when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies. I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten.
Knowing Jussie, would you have suspected this from him, or did this come out of the blue?
It’s got to feel like a huge betrayal.
If it turned out that he did it, was guilty, and all of it’s accurate.
Wait, there’s really doubt in your mind that he didn’t make the whole thing up?
Of course, there’s some doubt. I’m telling you that because I love him so much. That’s the torture that I’m in right now, because it’s literally if it were to happen to your son and your child, how would you feel? You would feel, Please, God, please let there be that glimmer of hope that there is some truth in this story. That’s why it’s been so painful. It was a flood of pain.
You can certainly understand why someone would want to hold on to a glimmer of hope regarding a friend in this situation, but just as telling is when Daniels describes how the Smollett affair ate up so much of his time, energy, and creative spirit — to a point where it appears as though Daniels has cut off all contact with Smollett.
“I had to detach myself and stop calling [Smollett],” Daniels admits, “because it was taking away the time I have for my kids, the time I have for my partner. It was affecting my spirit and other shows, everything.”
Daniels also says he barely had the time to read the coverage of the scandal because he was “too busy putting out fires.”
It is not difficult to read between the lines here. Daniels has already announced that Smollett is fired, that he will not be invited back for Empire’s sixth and final season. And since he obviously believes Smollett’s depraved hoax cost him his TV show, and all the money, power, and professional prestige that comes with having a network show on the air, Daniels has every right to fire Smollett and kick him out of his life.
There is simply no question Smollett’s hate crime hoax devastated Empire’s ratings. Sure, the show was already showing its age in the ratings, but the Smollett thing buried it forever.
Later in the interview, Daniels accuses Fox TV of racism, but doesn’t blame racism for the cancellation of Empire:
The Root wrote that it was a “troubling trend” that Fox not only announced it was ending Empire but also canceled all its shows with black leads: Lethal Weapon, Rel, Proven Innocent, Star, and The Cool Kids.
Yes. It’s not just my show. Clearly, there’s obvious stuff going on.
Like a whitewashing of the network schedule?
I think it’s very obvious. I was disturbed by it. But I don’t think Empire had anything to do with the whitewashing. Empire sort of lives in its own space at Fox, but I do question the agenda. Any fool could sure see where that’s going.
Throughout the Smollett affair, I speculated about the massive disruption this scandal must have had on the Empire production and that those behind it had to be worried about how Smollett’s behavior would undermine the show’s legacy. How could it not?
And let’s not forget that just prior to the hate crime hoax, Smollett received a threatening letter filled with white powder. Thankfully, the powder was harmless, but many now believe Smollett sent the letter to himself. Either way, it was sent to the Empire studio, which must have resulted in chaos, maybe even a temporary and very expensive suspension of production.
According to various reports the feds are looking into the letter. The city of Chicago is also suing Smollett for all the expense that went into investigation the hoax, some $130,000.
Unlike Smollett’s career, this scandal is far from over.