Lee Daniels says he is “beyond embarrassed” by the Jussie Smollett scandal that’s engulfed the final two seasons of “Empire” in a new interview published on Tuesday.
“I’m beyond embarrassed,” Daniels told Vulture of his initial decision to support Smollett’s story. “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.”
Daniels went on to say that he retains “some doubt” regarding Chicago authorities’ theory that Smollett staged the racist and homophobic hate crime committed against him earlier this year. Charges against the actor were dropped following the highly publicized investigation, and Daniels said he hangs on to a “glimmer of hope” because he loves Smollett like a son.
“We weren’t there. I can’t judge him,” Daniels said. “That’s only for the f—–g lady or man with that black robe and God. 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. It was affecting my spirit and other shows, everything.”
Smollett was written out of the final few episodes of “Empire” Season 5 after Chicago prosecutors charged him with multiple counts of filing a false police report, though those charges were later dropped as part of a deal requiring him to perform community service and forfeit $10,000 bond.
TheWrap previously reported that Smollett had once been in preliminary talks to return to the show for the upcoming sixth and final season, but Daniels later denied it on Twitter, emphatically stating that Smollett would not return.
Elsewhere in the wide-ranging interview, Daniels also raised an eyebrow at the network’s decision to cancel his other show “Star,” as well as many of its other shows anchored by actors of color.
“Clearly, there’s obvious stuff going on,” he said after being prompted to respond to observers commenting on the trend. “I think it’s very obvious. I was disturbed by it. But I don’t think ‘Empire’ had anything to do with the whitewashing. ‘Empire’ sort of lives in its own space at Fox, but I do question the agenda. Any fool could sure see where that’s going.”