After his arrest, the Empire star's character has been removed from the rest of the season.

By Brandi Fowler
Feb 22, 2019 @ 3:00 pm
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

When news first came to light that Jussie Smollett had been a victim of a hate crime, the Empire star received an outpouring of support from Hollywood. His close friends, associates, and even those who didn’t know him shared words of encouragement, love, and positivity, all hoping that he was okay.

Since then, the story behind that Jan. 29 incident has taken an unexpected turn. Following a police investigation, Smollett was arrested Thursday morning and charged with filing a false report, the Chicago Police Department alleging that Smollett “paid two men to stage the attack in hopes of promoting his career,” according to CNN. Friday morning, Deadline reported that Smollett's Empire character, Jamal, had been removed from the final two episodes of the season.

At the 12th annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif. On Thursday, we caught up with some of Smollett’s friends and peers in the industry to hear how they think this news moment will affect him, the people in his orbit, and the Black and queer communities at large. Most felt called to support Smollett, and to urge the rest of us to not let stories like this one distort our perception of the rising problem of hate crimes in America.

The event, hosted by Kelly Rowland, celebrated the global influence of Hollywood’s leading female artist-activists. Honorees included Kiki Layne, Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, and Jenifer Lewis.

“People asked me how I stood so strong for Jussie, and I think in our humanity even if you didn’t know Jussie personally, everything that he’s shown you, his character, his integrity, his sense of humor, his activism — we had no reason not to,” Sherri Shepherd told InStyle. “When I heard 'brutally beaten,' I made a post. Until I found out otherwise.”

Still, Shepherd advised people to not “stop believing victims, stop loving,” because of this one upsetting story. “[Jussie] is not the face of homophobia, he’s not the face of racism,” she continued. “I’ve got a black son and those kind of things scare me ... the thing that I’m heartbroken about is that Jussie has something lacking within himself, and he felt he needed to get that kind of attention, and he had everything ahead of him. I feel sorry for his family. There are ramifications for every decision that we make.”

RELATED: Regina King, Amandla Stenberg, and More Reflect on 4 Years of #OscarsSoWhite

Smollett has five siblings, most of whom have pursued careers in the entertainment industry for years, including his sister Underground star Jurnee Smollett-Bell.

Actress Meagan Good and her sister La’Myia Good are close friends of Smollett and his family, and urged people not to rush to judgment. “Based off the person that we know and that we’ve gotten to know over the years, we have to preserve judgment because that’s not the person we know,” La’Myia said. “I know people would call us foolish for not jumping on the bandwagon, but I think it’s important in our community to reserve judgment and don’t just be so quick to judge because social media told you this and that.”

Meagan agreed, adding, “Let’s say that it is true. Then, that’s an issue, and that’s an issue that we should not be making fun of. That’s an issue we should be supporting and loving. So I think the way people have handled it is really disgusting.” The dubiousness around Smollett’s case, she added, “doesn’t change the fact that [hate crimes] are happening around the world, and to me, this doesn’t discredit [that].”

Her sister agreed, saying there’s one thing this story doesn’t change: “As black people we really need to support each other."

Kandi Burruss (pictured above with Smollett) said she considers him a “friend in the industry,” adding, “right now I support him until I hear from him. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I know things are looking really bad right now, but even if there's guilt, I'm still here for forgiveness for him.”

RELATED: Jussie Smollett Is Facing Criminal Charges

Smollett’s industry peers like Grown-ish star Trevor Jackson, Dawn-Lyen Gardner of Queen Sugar, celebrity stylist June Ambrose, and more also shared their thoughts, emphasizing the need for support no matter the facts of this particular case.

“I think the bottom line is that any way you spin in, any way it plays out, it's heartbreaking," Gardner said. "It's heartbreaking that the truth of these situations are not talked about enough. It's heartbreaking that we, as a country, have created this space in which people feel so marginalized and so unseen and so unheard that something like this would split us, instead of unite us into eradicating the problem to begin with. So that's my hope. My hope is that what does happen from this is a deeper conversation.”

VIDEO: Jussie Smollett Leaves Cook County Jail

Ambrose called the situation “unfortunate,” adding, “I always keep hope alive. I'm thinking and I'm praying that maybe this evidence is not real evidence. We're gonna hold faith like we held faith when we initially got the news. Hope that things will turn around in his favor and, if they don't, that he still feels that he has the support of a community of people that love and want to give him some help. Because at this point, if it is true, he definitely needs some help.”

Jackson, too, expressed some empathy and concern for the troubled star. “It’s sad. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the pressures of today. So many people are doing so many things just for the attention almost. I’m going to pray for him," he said. "That’s all you can do.”

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