Lee Daniels on the Jussie Smollett scandal: “I’m beyond embarrassed”

ABC/Lou RoccoAfter Jussie Smollett claimed to be a victim of a racist crime earlier this year, Empire co-creator Lee Daniels strongly supported the actor. Smollett was since charged with faking the attack; the charges were eventually dropped, but the city of Chicago is suing the actor for the cost of the investigation.  Meanwhile, Daniels is looking back at his initial reaction to the alleged crime, and describing how he feels now.

“I’m beyond embarrassed. I think that when it happened, I had a flash of me running from bullies,” Daniels tells Vulture. “I had a flash of my whole life, of my childhood, my youth, getting beaten.”

Smollett portrays Jamal Lyon on Empire, a character Daniels developed based on his own life. Daniel admits it would feel like a “huge betrayal” if it turns out that Smollett “he did it, was guilty, and all of it’s accurate.” 

However, the Oscar-nominated director still maintains that Smollett’s story may not have been a hoax. 

“Of course, there’s some doubt. I’m telling you that because I love him so much,” Daniel says. “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.”

Daniel admits that the scandal forced him to stop communicating with Smollett.

“I had to detach myself and stop calling him,” he says, “because it was taking away the time I have for my kids, the time I have for my partner.”    

Fox recently announced that the upcoming sixth season of Empire would be its last. Daniels says he hopes to continue the story of the Lyon family in another series.

“We’re trying something out, and if it works, then Empire is over and we have a great spin-off.”

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