Smollett suspended from Empire TV show

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-47336596

Jussie SmollettImage copyright
Getty Images

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Jussie Smollett will not appear in the final episodes

Jussie Smollett will not appear in the final two episodes of Empire, the show’s executive producers have said.

In a statement, they said the past few weeks had been “incredibly emotional” for the team.

They called allegations that Mr Smollett had falsely claimed he was the victim of a hate crime “disturbing”.

The 36-year-old African-American actor is accused of filing a fake police report claiming he was the victim of a homophobic and racist assault.

Police say he staged the attack because he was “dissatisfied” with his salary.

In the statement, the Fox production team said: “The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply.

“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.”

It is not clear whether Mr Smollett will return to the show in future seasons.

US media reported that the actor was seen at the studio where Empire is filmed on Thursday afternoon.

Sources told NBC and CNN Mr Smollett apologised to the cast for any embarrassment caused by the incident but maintained his innocence.

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Media captionJussie Smollett: What Chicago Police say happened

What is Jussie Smollett accused of?

Mr Smollett is accused of paying two brothers to stage the attack. Chicago officials also believe that he sent a racist and homophobic letter to himself at a Fox studio beforehand.

At an earlier hearing, a judge set the actor’s bail at $100,000 (£76,000).

Mr Smollett, who was pictured outside the courthouse after posting bail, denies the charge of felony disorderly conduct.

His lawyers have said they will “mount an aggressive defence” of Mr Smollett, who they described as “a young man of impeccable character”.

What did he say had happened?

Mr Smollett said two white men hurled racist and homophobic insults at him when he went out late at night to buy food from a Subway sandwich shop in Chicago on 29 January.

He said they then punched him, poured a potentially chemical substance over him and put a rope around his neck – a reference to racist lynchings of African-Americans.

He also claimed the men said “this is Maga country” during the assault, a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”.

How has the case unfolded?

Officers began to grow suspicious when they were unable to find any footage of the incident, despite reviewing more than 50 surveillance cameras. There were also no witnesses.

But investigators say they managed to use a ride-sharing app to track and identify two brothers who were filmed near the scene.

The men, Ola and Abel Osundairo, flew to Nigeria after the alleged attack. On their return last week, they were held for almost 48 hours.

Officials said they were released without charge after providing information that “shifted the trajectory of the investigation”.

One of the brothers is Mr Smollett’s personal trainer, and both had worked as extras on Empire.

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Reuters

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Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson spoke about the Jussie Smollett case

Police say they have a cheque, signed by Mr Smollett, which showed that he had agreed to pay the brothers $3,500.

Chicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Mr Smollett told at least one of the brothers that he was “dissatisfied” with his salary on the show. According to the Huffington Post, he was being paid $65,000 (£49,785) per episode for his starring role.

In a press conference, Supt Johnson called the alleged scheme “shameful”, adding: “Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?”

He also accused Mr Smollett of taking “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career”.

On Wednesday, CBS Chicago obtained footage which appeared to show two people buying materials that were allegedly worn by the actor’s attackers.

The next day, Mr Smollett turned himself in. His next court date is set for 14 March.