'Empire' has been renewed, but Jussie Smollett's fate is still uncertain
"Empire" has been renewed for its sixth season, but don't expect to see Jussie Smollett on the Fox drama - at least, not anytime soon.
Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Entertainment said in a statement Tuesday that the studio had extended the actor's option "by mutual agreement," leaving the door open for him to return at some point. But, the statement noted, "at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to 'Empire.'"
Smollett has been embroiled in controversy since February when Chicago prosecutors charged him with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. The 36-year-old actor told police in January that he had faced a brutal late-night assault in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood by two individuals who yelled racist and homophobic slurs.
Police would later say that Smollett had orchestrated the attack because he was dissatisfied with his "Empire" salary. In March, a grand jury indicted him on 16 felony counts, to which Smollett pleaded not guilty. But in a stunning development later that month, prosecutors announced that they were dropping all charges against the actor.
Following the dismissal of the charges, which prompted pointed rebukes from top Chicago officials, Twentieth Century Fox said in a statement that "Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed."
But his fate on the show remained uncertain. After the actor's arrest in February, the show's producers said his character would be "removed" from the current season's final two episodes. That means last week's episode, which saw Jamal marrying his longtime boyfriend, Kai, could be Smollett's final appearance on the show.
The milestone presented a convenient exit for Smollett's character. It also reportedly marked a historic moment for "Empire," which is believed to be the first prime-time TV show to feature a wedding between two black gay men.
Some of Smollett's colleagues were hoping he would return to the show in Season 6. Deadline reported last month that several cast members including Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard, who play Jamal's hip-hop mogul parents, penned a lengthy letter to Fox executives and the show's producers asking them to bring the actor back.
"He is kind. He is compassionate. He is honest and above all he is filled with integrity," Smollett's co-stars said in the letter, which was also signed by Gabourey Sidibe, Nicole Ari Parker and Smollett's on-screen brothers Bryshere Y. Gray and Trai Byers.
"We've been told that Jussie will not be on 'Empire' in the beginning of the season, but he appreciates they have extended his contract to keep Jamal's future open," a spokesperson for Smollett said in a statement Tuesday. "Most importantly, he is grateful to Fox and 'Empire' leadership, cast, crew and fans for their unwavering support."
While all criminal charges against Smollett have been dismissed, the actor's legal troubles are far from over. Last month, the city of Chicago sued him for more than $130,000 to recover the cost of the investigation into the attack he reported in January.
This article was written by Bethonie Butler, a reporter for The Washington Post.