Initially, Daniels publicly supported the “Empire” actor, but his stance has shifted.
"Empire" creator Lee Daniels is opening up about his embarrassment, frustration and conflict over the Jussie Smollett scandal.
Initially, Daniels publicly supported the "Empire" actor, saying on the day of the alleged hate crime, "You didn’t deserve … to have a noose put around your neck, to have bleach thrown on you, to be called ‘die f–king n—-r’ or whatever they said to you," but his stance has shifted.
In a recent interview with Vulture, Daniels said he was now embarrassed by his initial stance on the situation, especially now that Chicago police believe the actor faked the racist, homophobic attack.
"I’m beyond embarrassed. I think that when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies," Daniels explained. "I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten."
Daniels said he knows Smollett well enough to view him like a son and that the scandal came out of left field. When asked if it felt "like a huge betrayal," Daniels said only "if it turned out that he did it, was guilty, and all of it’s accurate."
"Of course there’s some doubt," he added. "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."
Daniels claims he’s been "too busy putting out fires" to keep up with mainstream media’s coverage of the case, adding that he’s had to stop communicating with the actor for the sake of his family and his own well-being.
"I had to detach myself and stop calling him because it was taking away the time I have for my kids, the time I have for my partner," Daniels said. "It was affecting my spirit and other shows, everything."
To the remark that Smollett had become "the most famous guy in America" seemingly overnight, Daniels said, "What do you make of that? Think about it. If he didn’t do it, he’d be Martin Luther King right now. He’d be some sort of god."
When asked if the "showman" side of him felt any sense of pride that Smollett had become a household name, Daniels said, "Yeah. Kudos. Yeah."
Last week, the "Empire" creator shot down a report that implied Smollett would return for the sixth and final season of the FOX series, tweeting in response to the article, "This is not factual. Jussie will NOT be returning to ‘Empire.’"
Smollett made headlines in January after reporting to Chicago police that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic assault. After a weeks-long investigation, Chicago PD said they believed the actor had orchestrated the attack on himself and accused him of paying his trainers and show extras, brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, to carry out the assault.
Prosecutors later dropped all 16 charges against Smollett in exchange for him performing community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond. It was a decision that outraged Chicago’s then-mayor and the police chief, who demanded that Smollett pay the city the more than $130,000 it cost to fund the investigation.
Smollett continues to deny that he staged the crime and duped police. His attorneys have also said the actor will not be intimidated to pay the city.
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