‘Empire’ Creator Lee Daniels, Jussie Smollett Received Death Threats for Drama’s Gay Storyline

Produced By 2015: “Homophobia is real… we will continue to do our thing,” Daniels says of the hit Fox series

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 17: Lee Daniels attends Fox All-Star Party at Langham Hotel on January 17, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
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“Empire” co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels said he and show star Jussie Smollett have received death threats for their depiction of a homosexual African-American male in hip-hop.

Daniels made the startling revelation Sunday at the 2015 Produced By Conference in Los Angeles, where he was joined by the Fox series’ producing team.

“I have to relate to these people honestly,” Daniels said of the show’s diverse audience, “that trash can scene? It happened.”

Daniels was referring to a flashback in the first season where Terrence Howard’s Lucious Lyon throws his young son Jamal (played as an adult by Smollett) into the garbage for donning his mother’s clothing and acting effeminate.

“Homophobia is real. It exists… Jussie and I both get death threats. But we will continue to do our thing,” Daniels said to applause from conference attendees on the Paramount Pictures lot.

Daniels saluted co-creator Danny Strong for consistently inserting social issues into the show’s scripts, while balancing it with soapy intrigue.


The full Produced By panel included Daniels, Strong, showrunner Ilene Chaiken, EP Brian Grazer and head of Imagine TV Francie Calfo.

“Empire” returns to Fox for a second, 18-episode season on Sept. 23. Daniels also revealed he will direct the premiere episode from a script written by Strong and Chaiken.

Produced By is a signature event of the Producers Guild of America. Panelists this weekend included Reese Witherspoon, who spoke on gender equality in the industry. Prolific director-writer Tyler Perry was also interviewed by “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, who discussed his early days touring the African American theater circuit and his gamble on Hollywood.