Celebs React To The Jussie Smollett Controversy

In late January 2019, Empire actor Jussie Smollett went for a 2 a.m. Subway sandwich run that turned absolutely traumatic when he became the alleged victim of a brutal hate crime. According to TMZ, the star was hospitalized after what he claimed was an attack by two masked men who beat him up, placed a noose around his neck and doused him in what was later determined to be bleach. They also reportedly yelled racial and homophobic slurs at the star, who is black and openly gay, while referencing Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" catchphrase.

According to Vox, Chicago police were "treating the incident as a possible hate crime" from the start. Following the initial reports, the actor received an outpouring of support from his fellow Empire co-stars, Hollywood A-listers and prominent politicians — from Ariana Grande to Nancy Pelosi. Then, the narrative shifted, and so did the celebrity hot takes.

In the following weeks, a number of reports claimed police were investigating whether or not Smollett paid off two men to orchestrate his attack — brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, who have professional ties to Smollett. Smollett lawyered up and denied that the attack was staged, but was later arrested and charged with "disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false report," according to CNN. Naturally, Hollywood had mixed feelings about this whole stranger-than-fiction scenario.

Cardi B worried that Black History Month was ruined

Cardi B built a brand out of being outspoken and unapologetically herself. In the past, the "I Like It" star snubbed the Super Bowl in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and slammed Donald Trump over his border wall plan. According to The Hill, she even likened the president to a "clout chaser," one of rap's most detested breeds of human. How much clout does a person get for taking a selfie on Air Force One rather than an average private plane?

Though Cardi B was running on a high since her Grammy win and Bruno Mars collaboration, she paused her personal celebration to call out Jussie Smollet after reports surfaced claiming the Empire star may have staged his own attack. In an Instagram Live video (via Page Six), the "Bodak Yellow" singer claimed Smollet "f***ed up Black History Month" if he lied, but she's holding out hope that he's telling the truth.

"Until he says out of his mouth that it was fake and this s**t was staged, I don't want to completely blame him because, you know ... police in Chicago are racist, so they might probably try to frame him and make him look like he's a liar," she said. "But if he's not [telling the truth], then bro, you f***ed up for real."

Nancy Pelosi deleted her tweet

Criticisms of prominent public figures who've rallied behind Jussie Smollet have already surfaced with news of the shifting investigation. A New York Times op-ed highlighted the suspicion that Smollett would hold onto his Subway sandwich during the attack, that the noose would remain around his neck for so long (even once he returned home), and that his attackers would be searching for "high-profile targets at 2 a.m." in record-low temperatures. For many — like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, apparently — Smollett's story was beginning unravel.

According to Business Insider, Pelosi first tweeted in support of Smollett on January 29, 2019, the day the Empire actor spoke to Chicago Police. "The racist, homophobic attack on @JussieSmollett is an affront to our humanity," she wrote. "No one should be attacked for who they are or whom they love. I pray that Jussie has a speedy recovery & that justice is served. May we all commit to ending this hate once & for all."

Pelosi, who helped pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, later deleted the tweet after police reportedly began investigating whether or not the alleged attack was a hoax. Her deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill confirmed to Vanity Fair that she "decided to no longer amplify" Smollett's "original accusations" and will "comment further" once the investigation is complete.

Director Ava DuVernay won't 'blindly believe' the police

Director Ava DuVernay is a champion for women and people of color in the white-washed film industry. According to the Los Angeles Times, she became the first woman of color to direct a $100 million live-action film with her radically feminist adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time. The following year, she received an Academy Award nomination for her work on Netflix's 13th, which sheds lights on America's prison system and the way in which mass incarceration predominantly affects black men. She's also one of the few celebs who stood by Jussie Smollett despite the shifting investigation.

"Despite the inconsistencies, I can't blindly believe Chicago P.D. The department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times? That operated an off-site torture facility? That one? I'll wait," she tweeted. "Whatever the outcome, this won't stop me from believing others. It can't."

According to Deadline, Laquan McDonald was a 17-year-old African American boy who was "fatally shot by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014." The officer, who was responding to a report of car break-ins, was "convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery" after shooting McDonald 16 times.

DuVernay, who, as of this writing, is working on the limited Netflix series Central Park Five, admitted in another tweet that while Smollett "might have lied" he also "might not have." She continued, "I never believe police on general principle just 'cause they say so."

Kamala Harris is 'concerned'

Like Ava DuVernay, California Senator Kamala Harris has used her platform to highlight issues for people of color. Weeks after Jussie Smollett's alleged attack, the former prosecutor spoke about racial injustice at a North Carolina town hall. "In America today, a mother or father has to sit down with their 12-year-old son and talk to him about how he may be arrested, or may be shot because of the color of his skin," she said (via 10TV).

Harris, who has a deeply intimate relationship with the justice system after serving as California's attorney general, rallied behind Smollett following the initial news of his alleged attack. In a tweet, the senator claimed the alleged hate crime was a "modern day lynching" and urged her supporters to "confront this hate." Following the news that the Empire actor possibly staged his own attack, Harris was still hesitant to pass judgement until the investigation wrapped.

"I think the facts are still unfolding and I'm very concerned," she said during a New Hampshire forum (via the New York Times). "There should be an investigation."

Cory Booker saw a political opportunity

Senator Cory Booker also initially claimed Jussie Smollett's attack was a "modern-day lynching." The politician used the alleged incident to promote his and Harris' anti-lynching bill, which would designate lynching as federal hate crime under the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018. Though it may seem obvious, Congress actually failed to make lynching a federal crime "nearly 200 times" despite the support from seven presidents, according to The Washington Post. The bill finally passed through Senate on Valentine's Day 2019, about two weeks after news of Smollett's alleged attack broke. CNN reported that the vote was unanimous.

Despite the legislative win, Booker wound up distancing himself from his initial comments about the Empire actor. The senator decided to "withhold until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources" but remained strong in his desire to end race-related violence.

"We know in America that bigoted and biased attacks are on the rise in a serious way," he said (via The Hill). "We actually even know that in this country, that since 9/11, the majority of terrorist attacks on our soil have been right wing terrorist attacks, the majority of them white supremacist attacks."

Kenan Thompson supported his fellow Mighty Duck

Kenan Thompson may occasionally appear on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," but that doesn't mean he isn't confused by the news about Jussie Smollett. At first, the sketch comedy star supported his fellow Mighty Duck (Smollett appeared in the first Mighty Ducks film, while Thompson appeared in D2 and D3). During an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, the star asked to send "a lot of love" to the Empire actor and his family. He also urged that "this kind of madness needs to stop."

While investigators might have thrown a knuckle puck at Smollett's story, Thompson still wasn't quick to judge, but seemed pretty upset by the turn of events. In late February, Thompson told The Associated Press that the "story is so crazy."

"Now it's coming out that he might have set it up or whatever ... I wish I knew what the truth was because everybody's so quick to jump on one side or the other, you know, before the actual facts come out," he said. "I felt like me being a fellow Mighty Duck and him being an ex-Mighty Duck, like I should like extend my hand in that kind of like hope you, you know, stop the madness type of thing as well, but now it's like the story is turning, and it's starting to look kind of negative, so I don't know."

Empire's executive producer stood by Smollett

Celebs are undeniably torn about the controversy surrounding Jussie Smollett's alleged attack, but the Empire actor still has one person on his side, as of this writing. Brett Mahoney, Empire's executive producer, voiced his support for the actor, along with the entirety of Empire's writing team (at least on Twitter).

"I believe and stand by @JussieSmollett. Keep your head up," Mahoney tweeted, tagging both Empire's official account and the Empire Writers account. Mahoney's tweet was then retweeted by Empire Writers, who have been sharing support for the star since February 14, 2019. They even went as far as retweeting Chicago P.D.'s Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi, who claimed the hoax was "unconfirmed by case detectives."

Curiously enough, USA Today claimed Mahoney's tweet was shared by the series' official Twitter account, but as of this writing, it appears to be scrubbed from their timeline. Though series co-creator Danny Strong claimed that Smollett's character wasn't going to be written off the show, Deadline later reported that the star's scenes were "slashed" and episodes were undergoing major rewrites to reduce his role.

Trevor Noah thinks Smollett might deserve an Emmy

Before reports that Jussie Smollett staged — and rehearsed — his own attack, the Empire star went on Good Morning America to share his side of the story. According to The Blast, Smollett "specifically requested" to be interviewed on GMA by Robin Roberts because they knew each other from her April cameo on his FOX series. Though police had yet to investigate the actor's credibility, a number of ABC staffers present at the time of the interview reportedly felt like something was "amiss."

Smollett's interview may have not convinced everyone, but Trevor Noah did find it rather believable. In a segment on The Daily Show, the TV host said, "Either this guy's telling the truth, or he deserves an Emmy for that interview because if all of that is just a performance, I don't care what he's lying about. You can't cancel him. He's too good to not be on TV."

That's not to say Noah thought every part of Smollett's story made sense. Before putting Smollett up for an Emmy, the TV host claimed there was a "certain part of the story that was always a little weird."

"Who are the MAGA supporters who hate gay people, who hate black people, but also happen to watch Empire? ... It's like a member of the Klan buying tickets to Fiddler on the Roof," he said.

Donald Trump Jr. went with memes

Donald Trump Jr. can't kick the habit of posting memes on Twitter. And while the social media platform is, of course, the perfect place to do that, the president's son occasionally fails at it, delivering a self-own or completely missing the point. As such, there's no way in the world Trump Jr. wasn't going to weigh in on the Jussie Smollett controversy, especially because so many democratic lawmakers showed their support. This time around, he tried to spark a war with Kathy Griffin.

"Kathy Griffin: No one can ruin a career faster than I can," he tweeted. "Jussie Smollett: Hold my bleach!!!"

Trump Jr. was referencing Griffin's photo scandal which led to a Secret Service investigation. Regardless of the taste level (Griffin initially claimed she went "too far" before taking back her apology), you can't deny the comedian is at least original with her jokes. The same can't be said for Trump Jr., who Griffin called out for allegedly plagiarizing "a tweet that's been around for at least 12 hours." She added, "You really showed me."

We wouldn't be shocked if she posed with a mannequin of his ketchup-covered head next, but we're guessing she has better things to do. Meanwhile, Trump Jr. was pretty busy blasting Instagram after the platform removed a different derogatory post about Smollett "in error," according to Breitbart. Or maybe the algorithm is just getting smarter?

Terrence Howard's jaw dropped

Empire's cast hasn't really spoken out about Jussie Smollett's story since the shift in headlines, but co-star Terrence Howard shed some light on what it felt like to be part of the cast when news of the alleged attack initially surfaced. Howard, who plays Smollett's on-screen dad, told Good Morning America (via ET) that their "jaws dropped to the ground, and then when we learned that there had been letters that had been sent to FOX as threats about the potential of something like this, then we became much more frightened."

Howard was most likely referring to a particularly frightening letter that was sent to the TV show's studio and contained a white powder. According to CBS Chicago, the letter contained "racial and homophobic threats directed at Smollett" and triggered a HAZMAT response, though the powder turned out to be aspirin. In another crazy twist, an anonymous source told CBS Chicago that Smollett decided to stage his own attack after the letter didn't get a "bigger reaction," but the news station also reports that Smollett may have actually been responsible for the letter in the first place.

Though Howard hasn't commented on the developments in Smollett's case, he did initially say his co-star was "getting better" following the alleged attack.

"He's angry, but I know Jussie. Jussie's anger will dissipate, and he will forgive these people for what they did. But he won't, and we cannot, forget their actions," he told Good Morning America (via ET).

Nikki Haley called for a strict punishment

In early October, President Donald Trump announced that Nikki Haley, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, would be stepping down from her post. Though Trump claimed he was notified of her decision to retire around six months prior to the announcement, CNN reported that Haley suddenly spilled the beans only a week before, leaving her colleagues "caught off guard."

Since then, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has been tweeting out photos of her impossibly cute dog, who appears to be some sort of poodle mix, and sparking rumors that she might launch a presidential campaign of her own. According to CNN, Trump gave Haley full permission to always speak her mind, and that she did, even after her time with his administration. That free reign apparently extended to slamming Jussie Smollett's case while the investigation was still ongoing.

"Thoughts on Jussie Smollett case: He must be held accountable in the strictest way," Haley tweeted. "He must repay resources used to investigate and serve time for the division he caused. The media should be the most outraged. He played all of them for fools. He knew they would cover it."

Al Sharpton required maximum accountability

Reverend Al Sharpton's life's work is fighting against racial prejudice and injustice, largely with the National Action Network which he formed in 1991. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the civil rights activist was only 10 years old when he "became an ordained Pentecostal minister." He founded a national youth organization dedicated to promoting "social and economic justice for African Americans" before he even graduated from high school. Despite his extensive work to end prejudice and promote equality, Sharpton didn't seem too pleased with the turn in Jussie Smollett's alleged hate crime case.

Sharpton told TMZ he was "outraged" with the initial reports of Smollett's alleged attack, and urged Trump to denounce the attackers, who reportedly told the Empire actor he was in "MAGA country" while putting a noose around his neck and dousing him with bleach. Following reports that the attack might have been a hoax, Sharpton still hoped the guilty receive the "maximum penalty of law" — even if the guilty includes Smollett himself.

"I, among many others when hearing of the report, said that the reports were horrific ... and the guilty should suffer the maximum," he said during his MSNBC show PoliticsNation. "I still maintain that, and if it is found that Smollett and these gentlemen did in some way perpetuate something that is not true, they ought to face accountability to the maximum."