Lee Daniels is opening up about the Jussie Smollett debacle that caught national attention earlier this year, saying that he was “beyond embarrassed” by the incident and subsequent backlash caused by the actor he considered a son.
In an interview with Vulture published Tuesday, the Empire creator appeared to have mixed feelings about how to continue a relationship with Smollett, who played Jamal Lyons on the hit Fox series that will end after season six, after it was alleged by Chicago police that he had staged a hate crime. Smollett was indicted for allegedly fabricating a racist and homophobic hate crime in which he was the victim. However, the charges were later dropped.
“Of course, there’s some doubt. 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 [like] if it were to happen to your son and your child, how would you feel?” Daniels said. “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.”
Although the charges have since been dropped, the case has caused significant damage to Smollett’s personal and professional reputation. Daniels said that he initially supported Smollett, but explained that he was still deeply embarrassed by the situation, especially since he believes that Smollett’s incident “played a major part” in Empire being canceled.
“I’m beyond embarrassed. 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,” he said.
Daniels also admitted that he has stopped communicating with Smollett to protect his peace.
“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,” he said.
Last week, Daniels denied a media report that implied Smollett’s character, Jamal, would return for the sixth and final season of Empire. “This is not factual. Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire,” Daniels said in a tweet.