“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our ‘Empire’ family for the past five years and we care about him deeply,” executive producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer said in a statement Friday morning.
“While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out,” the statement continues. “We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
Smollett had initially reported that he was the victim of a Jan. 29 attack in Chicago. The actor told Chicago police that he was walking to get food when two masked men began yelling racial and homophobic slurs. Smollett, who is black and gay, said that the unidentified assailants beat him up, tied a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him.
He later told police that the alleged assailants yelled “MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
The actor’s story started to come undone when Chicago police detained two Nigerian brothers on suspicion of assaulting Smollett. It was revealed that one of the brothers was Smollett’s physical trainer, and police released both men without charges on Feb. 15.
Smollett paid the brothers $3,500 to stage the attack, police said during a Thursday press conference. Smollett wanted to boost his public profile because he was “dissatisfied with his salary,” police said.
The “Empire” actor was arrested Wednesday and charged with filing a false police report. His bond was set at $100,000, and he was ordered to give up his passport. He is facing a possible prison sentence.
Smollett has played Jamal Lyon on “Empire” since 2015, when the musical drama TV series first aired. He worked alongside castmates Taraji P. Henson, who plays Cookie Lyon, and Terrence Howard, who plays Lucious Lyon.
Smollett’s lawyers said in a statement Thursday evening that the actor is innocent and is being targeted by law enforcement.
“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing,” they said.