Embattled actor Jussie Smollett’s “Empire” cast mates called for his return to the show after he was cut from the end of its fifth season in light of allegations that he staged a hate crime against himself.
On Wednesday, Deadline obtained and published a letter from two of Smollett’s co-stars, Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, to numerous executives to bring Smollett back to the show. The letter was sent to network leaders including Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier, Fox Entertainment President Michael Thorn, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment chair Dana Walden, and Danny Strong, the series’ co-creator.
In their plea, which was also signed by cast mates Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe and Nicole Ari Parker, Smollett’s colleagues defended his personal and professional reputation:
Throughout Empire’s five seasons working with Jussie and watching how he has conducted himself throughout this traumatic event, we have come to know not just the character Jussie portrays, but also truly come to know Jussie’s personal character. He is kind. He is compassionate. He is honest and above all he is filled with integrity. He is also innocent and no longer subject to legal uncertainty with the criminal charges against him having been dropped. We are confident in his lawyer’s assurance that the case was dismissed because it would not have prevailed.
A representative of the show declined to comment on the actors’ appeal. In January, Smollett made headlines when he reported that two men targeted him in a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago, stringing a rope around his neck and dousing him with a chemical substance.
Following an investigation by Chicago police and the FBI, the actor was charged in February with filing a false report. In March, Smollett was hit with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct pertaining to the alleged hoax. He pleaded not guilty, and the charges were dropped later that month.
Pushing for “Empire” to offer Smollett his old spot on the show for its sixth season, the actors said America’s “extreme political climate in our country has only made our system of justice and the court of public opinion more unjust:”
It is why now, more than ever, we must stand together as a family. A family is there for us in good times and bad. It can cut through the noise and confusion to understand that there is a person in the center of all this who deserves nothing more than to move forward with his life. We understand that this show is a business. And that business matters to us as well. We are confident our fans will welcome our “Jamal” back into the Empire family as enthusiastically as we will.
Smollett’s final appearance in Season 5 aired Wednesday.