- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2019

“Empire” co-creator Lee Daniels said he’s “beyond embarrassed” for rushing to defend actor Jussie Smollett, who is accused of staging a fake hate crime against himself.

Mr. Smollett, a black gay man, told Chicago police in January that he was attacked and called racist and homophobic slurs by two men yelling, “This is MAGA country.” The actor’s “Empire” colleagues, including Mr. Daniels, rushed to his defense during an investigation into the alleged attack, which later turned out to be a hoax, police said. Police believe the actor staged the attack to leverage a higher wage from his role on “Empire.”

Mr. Daniels posted an Instagram video the day after the alleged attack, saying, “You didn’t deserve … to have a noose put around your neck, to have bleach thrown on you, to be called ‘die [expletive] [N-word]’ or whatever they said to you.”

Speaking to Vulture in an interview published Tuesday, Mr. Daniels said he’s “beyond embarrassed” by that video.

“I think that when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies,” he explained. “I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten.”

Mr. Daniels said he never expected something like this from Mr. Smollett and that he’s still holding out hope that there’s some shred of his story that is true.

“Of course, there’s some doubt,” Mr. Daniels said of the police allegations. “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.”

Mr. Daniels said he was “too busy putting out fires” to bother reading the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of Mr. Smollett, which the interviewer noted “didn’t leave much in the way of doubt about its being anything other than a hoax.”

“We weren’t there,” Mr. Daniels responded. “I can’t judge him. That’s only for the [expletive] 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.”

The charges against Mr. Smollett were dropped in March in exchange for him completing community service and forfeiting his $10,000 bond. Mr. Daniels said last week that Mr. Smollett would not be returning to “Empire,” despite earlier reports that said he would appear in the sixth and last season.

Variety reported last week that tensions remained high on the “Empire” set between “the show’s primarily black cast members, who still believe Smollett is innocent, and the mostly white below-the-line crew, many of whom believe Smollett is guilty.”

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