The executive producers of Empire announced Friday they are cutting Jussie Smollett’s character from the last two episodes of the show’s current season.
“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,” said Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer in a joint statement released by 20th Century Fox Television.
“While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out,” the statement continued. “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.”
The announcement came one day after Smollett turned himself in to Chicago police, appeared at a bail hearing to face a felony charge of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report, and was released on $100,000 bond. Several media outlets reported the actor immediately returned to the Chicago set of Empire, which is currently in production on its fifth season.
Smollett plays Jamal Lyon, the openly gay son of hip-hop mogul Lucious Lyon, and has been a main character since Empire launched. The show’s other central cast members include Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Y. Gray and Trai Byers.
Despite media reports over the past two weeks saying Smollett’s role would be reduced on the series amid the investigation into his alleged Jan. 29 attack, Fox has repeatedly insisted the reports were untrue.
“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,” the network said in a statement on Feb. 20.
Last month, Smollett — who is African-American and openly gay — said he was attacked by two men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs and referenced “MAGA.” The actor also claimed the attackers placed a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him.
But at a news conference Thursday morning, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the actor orchestrated the assault to get attention because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on Empire.
Later in the day, Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier told reporters Smollett paid brothers Obabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo $3,500 to stage the attack.
Lanier said investigators obtained a copy of the check the actor allegedly wrote, and also collected Uber records, text messages from the alleged perpetrators’ phones and cell phone tower data from Smollett’s phone to prove the trio staged the attack.
On Thursday night, a member of Smollett’s legal team released a statement saying the actor’s rights are being “trampled upon.”
“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” said attorney Mark Geragos, who is advising Smollett’s Chicago-based lawyers. “The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a mayoral election.”