Empire co-creator and director Lee Daniels is speaking out about the personal pain caused by the recent Jussie Smollett case.
Speaking to New York magazine, Daniels discussed the Empire actor’s downfall amid allegations he perpetuated a hate crime hoax in Chicago in January. Daniels originally issued a statement in support of Smollett when the news first broke that the actor was the victim of an apparent homophobic and racist assault, but then Chicago police said he faked the attack with the help of two associates in order to get attention and an Empire pay raise (Smollett has maintained that he is innocent of the allegations and the charges were dropped in March).
“I’m beyond embarrassed,” Daniels said. “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.”
The magazine asked if there was “any doubt in his mind” that Smollett didn’t make up the attack.
“Of course, there’s some doubt,” he said. “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 has previously confirmed that Smollett will not be returning for the sixth and final season of Empire.
“We’re in the writers’ room right now, discussing [Empire’s final] fantastic, bombastic season, which is going to shake you by your roots,” Daniels promised.
Meanwhile, Smollett returned to social media on Monday for the first time since the alleged attack. According to PEOPLE, the actor shared a clip on Instagram of Moonlight‘s Oscar-winning screenwriter Tarrell Alvin McCraney discussing his play Choir Boy and captioned the video “So much #PRIDE.” Smollett turned disabled commenting for the post.
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Lee Daniels and Danny Strong created this Fox drama about a kingpin of hip-hop (played by Terrence Howard) and his family, who fight him for control of the empire.