The Untold Truth Of The Smollett Family

She may not be the tallest of the six Smollett siblings, but Hollywood star Jurnee Smollett certainly casts a big shadow. She became the most famous member of the Smollett clan by some distance in 2020 when she debuted as Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary) in "Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey" and starred as civil rights advocate Letitia Lewis on HBO's "Lovecraft Country," but her brothers and sisters certainly aren't lacking in the talent department. Fellow actor Jussie Smollett was best known for his time playing Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox show "Empire" — until 2019, when he was involved in an incident that thrust the family into the spotlight for an entirely different reason.

Jussie made headlines the world over when he told police in Chicago that he'd been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack, claims that the police would later refute. Chicago's Police Superintendent told the press (via CNN) that the actor sought to take "advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," but Smollett staunchly denied staging the attack. He's been the subject of intense media scrutiny since, though his family has rallied around him, just like they've always done for each other. Brothers JoJo (a nonprofit worker), Jake (a chef), and Jocqui (who works in tech, per The New York Times) have all spoken out in support of Jussie, as have his sisters, Jurnee and Jazz.

Want the full lowdown on this super-tight family's journey from hardship to Hollywood? You're in the right place.

They had homemade furniture

The Smollett siblings are the children of Joel Smollett Sr., a Russian-Polish Jew, and Janet Smollett, an African American from New Orleans. The couple (who were giving their kids names beginning with the same letter as theirs before Kris Jenner made it cool) moved around a lot when the kids were young, alternating between the East and West coast, per The New York Times. They relocated between states as many as 13 times, according to Essence, which conducted a joint interview with Jazz and Jake Smollett in 2020. The siblings revealed that their parents had very little in those days, so they got creative.

When the nomadic family stayed settled long enough, Janet Smollett made a brand-new kitchen table big enough for them all to eat at. "Like, literally built it with her own hands," Jazz said. "She went to the lumber yard, got the wood, and then in those early days, our dad was helping her build it but, it was all her creation and her brainchild. They didn't have much money at all when they started out so they built all of their furniture, actually." Jazz, who was speaking to the mag to promote the cookbook she and her siblings released together, went on to reveal that their mom built all of their beds and the family couch, too. She added, "We even had a slide in the middle of our bedroom that she built out of wood and sanded down!"

Their mom was their only acting coach

Janet Smollett brought her children up watching classic Hollywood films and encouraged them to express themselves creatively from a young age. "You put on shows — we had a whole damn production, because we had all these kids," Jussie Smollett told The New York Times during a joint interview with his sister, Jurnee Smollett. "Creating was something that we just were expected to do." Janet saw a bright future for her kids in the entertainment industry, and, according to Jurnee, they were all on board with that plan from the get-go. "I don't remember a time not wanting to do that," she told The Times.

Speaking to Billboard, Jussie revealed that his mom was his biggest supporter during his time on "Empire," of which she was a huge fan. "She calls me every single Wednesday and I know that we have to stay on the phone at least for 30 minutes to an hour of just hearing her break down what Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) did, what the brothers did, which song was her favorite, you know?" he told the music mag. "So, yeah, it's fun. It's good fun." The actor paid tribute to the Smollett matriarch and all the women in his family with a touching Mother's Day Instagram post in 2018, thanking her on behalf of himself and all his siblings. "My biggest fear in life is you not knowing how deeply you have affected every last one of us," he wrote.

They've been attending protests since childhood

Janet Smollett and her late husband Joel Smollett Sr. were activists that rubbed shoulders with everyone from the co-founders of the Black Panther Party to the most prominent civil rights leaders of their day, the couple's most famous son told The New York Times. "My mom was in the movement with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, and one of her first mentors was Julian Bond," Jussie Smollett said. "To this day, Angela Davis is one of her dearest friends. We've spent Mother's Day with Angela." The company that the Smolletts liked to keep clearly rubbed off on their children because they've been protesting pretty much their whole lives.

According to Jurnee, she was five years old when she joined her mom at her first protest — she was out in the street holding a sign when the Los Angeles cops who beat Rodney King were acquitted on assault charges. She told The Hollywood Reporter that she was even allowed to see the film "Malcolm X" when it was in cinemas. "My mom would cover our eyes in certain parts, but she didn't want to shield us from our history," the actor said. More recently, both Jurnee and Jussie have been supporting the Black Lives Matter movement by attending marches and protests (via Extra). "Their sense of justice is very strong, and it permeates everything that they do," Alfre Woodard, who worked with the siblings at the nonprofit Artists for a New South Africa, told the Times.

Jurnee Smollett was the breakout star of the family

Jurnee Smollett wasn't even a year old when she landed her first acting gig. She had only been in the world for 10 months when she popped up in a diaper commercial, becoming the first Smollett to appear on camera. Even then, it was clear that Jurnee was destined for big things. "At a year old, she was like a mix of Diana Ross and Elizabeth Taylor," Jussie Smollett told The New York Times. "She was boss from the beginning." Her big break came when, aged four, she won a recurring role on ABC's "Full House" playing the bestie of Michelle Tanner (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen). The character was written for a white girl, but Jurnee's mother, Janet Smollett, insisted that she audition anyway.

The rest is history, and it's a history that Jurnee is proud to be part of. "There's a generation of young girls, women of color, who have repeatedly expressed to me [that they] didn't see many young brown girls, young Black girls on TV during that time," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "Growing up with an image of a girl whose hair was curly, you know, it had an impact on them. I'm appreciative of and grateful for that." She remembers her time on "Full House" fondly and credits the show with teaching her some important tricks of the trade early in life. "It was such great training for me because it really gave me confidence and freedom," she said.

They all starred in a sitcom together

Jurnee Smollett's run on "Full House" went down so well with producers that ABC decided to offer her a spin-off show. According to Jurnee, when the network approached Janet Smollett with the idea, her response was: "Well, I've got more kids." Before she knew it, she and her siblings were auditioning in front of a bunch of white execs. They performed the Public Enemy song "Shut 'Em Down," Jurnee told The Hollywood Reporter. "I don't even think my mom was trying to make a statement, it's genuinely who we were," she said. "I remember the men just sitting there, not dancing at all — and then they f****** bought this thing."

"On Our Own," in which the Smolletts played a bunch of orphaned siblings, debuted in 1994, and they all sat down for an interview with the Los Angeles Times to promote it that same year. Jazz Smollett told the outlet that she and her siblings are "really close," which JoJo, the eldest Smollett, vouched for. "We get along really well," he said. "People say it's amazing. We've been brought up to reject conflict. We think it's a waste of time to fight and argue." Their sitcom got canceled after a single season, but they had fun while it lasted. "It was like heaven," Jurnee told The New York Times. "We all were in the same school trailer. We would eat hot links and bagels for breakfast every morning — very black and Jewish of us."

Jurnee was sexually harrassed on sets for years

People began to take Jurnee Smollett seriously as an actor when she put in a scene-stealing performance opposite Samuel L. Jackson in 1997's "Eve's Bayou," a Southern gothic drama about a family torn apart by a philandering father. Smollett played Jackson's 10-year-old daughter in the critically acclaimed film, and she still has a good relationship with him to this day — the pair discussed the state of the industry at length during a fascinating Interview magazine chat in 2020. Sadly, her experiences on sets since then have all been marred by instances of sexual misconduct.

"I don't know that I can confidently say that I worked on one job prior to 'Lovecraft [Country]' — from the time I was 12 on — where I hadn't been sexually harassed, whether it was by an AD, a co-star, director, producer," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "Like, a guy saying before we're about to do this love scene, 'Hey, your t*** are going to be hanging in the wind,' is not OK." She began working with the Time's Up charity after the Harvey Weinstein scandal rocked Hollywood, though she was among a number of celebs that stepped down from the board in 2021. The chairman of the organization was found to have aided former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo with "a letter meant to discredit one of his nearly a dozen accusers," said People magazine, which confirmed a Los Angeles Times report that Smollett, Eva Longoria, and Shonda Rhimes were among those leaving.

Jussie Smollett insists that he's not lying about being attacked

There was widespread outrage after Jussie Smollett told police in Chicago that he'd been attacked by two white when who men made MAGA references, wrapped a noose around his neck, and (per the BBC) doused him with an "unknown chemical substance." Kamala Harris called it a "modern day lynching" in a tweet, and she was as shocked as anyone when authorities announced that they believed Smollett was lying. Harris said that she was "sad, frustrated, and disappointed" after police claimed that the actor had paid brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo (who worked as extras on "Empire") $3,500 to carry out the staged attack.

It didn't look good when CBS Chicago released CCTV footage that appeared to show the brothers buying items that were used by the apparent attackers, but Smollett maintained that it was no hoax, even after the Osundairos allegedly came clean. They told police that the actor was unhappy with his "Empire" salary and thought the assault would boost his profile, reported The New York Times. He was charged with filing a false police report in February 2019, but prosecutors dropped the charges the following month, which Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called "a whitewash of justice." A special prosecutor was put on the case, and the actor found himself back in court on six counts of lying to police. He pleaded not guilty, and the case is ongoing at the time of this writing.

Jussie Smollett's siblings all think he's telling the truth

When Jurnee Smollett met with The Hollywood Reporter to promote her hit HBO show "Lovecraft Country" in 2020, she revealed that her family's world had been turned upside down since Jussie Smollett was accused of staging a hate crime on himself. The "Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey" star spoke publicly about the incident for the first time during the interview, and she made it clear that she believes her brother's version of events over that of the Chicago police. "It's been f****** painful," she said. "One of the most painful things my family's ever experienced — to love someone as much as we love my brother, and to watch someone who you love that much go through something like this, that is so public, has been devastating."

Jurnee wasn't the only Smollett sibling to voice support, either. Jazz Smollett said they're all "there for each other" and "know the truth" when she and Jake Smollett sat down with People six months on from the alleged attack. Eldest sibling JoJo Smollett broke his silence in an exclusive BET op-ed. "Like so many others, this entire process quickly devolved from a focus on him as a victim of assault, to him being falsely accused and held responsible for a crime that was perpetrated against him," he wrote. Youngest brother Jocqui Smollett, meanwhile, called the alleged attack an act of "domestic terrorism" in a strongly worded Instagram post.

The Smolletts blame the media for Jussie's predicament

In his BET op-ed, Jussie's Smollett's oldest brother revealed that the actor has been going through hell behind closed doors since his alleged ordeal in Chicago. "Jussie is as strong as iron, but following an attack like this, there is a normal and natural amount of post trauma that mostly anyone should expect to suffer," JoJo Smollett wrote. "I have literally seen him violently awakening from night terrors, following the assault. Some of my siblings, as well as Jussie's partner and closest friends have seen similar things." He goes on to ask people to simply consider the possibility that Jussie didn't stage the assault. However, according to his other siblings, the media has already made everyone's minds up.

Youngest Smollett sibling Jocqui Smollett isn't in the spotlight anywhere near as much as his older brothers and sisters are, but he made headlines around the world in February 2019 when he took to Instagram to attack the press over its handling of the case. Jocqui reposted a tweet that read, "I have a feeling even if we had video of Jussie Smollett being attacked ... y'all would still discredit him." He also shared a quote attributed to Malcolm X on his Instagram page. "This is the media, the irresponsible media," it read. "It will make the criminal look like he's the victim and make the victim look like he's the criminal." Jurnee Smollett regrammed the Malcolm X post, throwing more shade at the press.

The Smollett siblings used to have their own cooking show

They've worked together behind the scenes over the years, but in 2016, all six Smollett siblings reunited in front of the cameras for the Food Network series "Smollett Eats," a show that celebrates their family's love of good food. According to Jazz Smollett, things can get rather competitive in the kitchen, but together they make a good team. "Jake can cook absolutely anything," she told Essence. "He's like, king of the grill ... I'm the bean queen. Red beans and ham hocks, black beans and coconut rice, lentils, legumes ... Jurnee's really good with using different spices and she loves making a lot of different side dishes."

Jazz wouldn't be drawn when asked who was the best cook, but it seems as though Jake is the one with that little bit of extra flair. He launched a career as a celebrity chef on the back of "Smollett Eats," appearing as a judge on shows like "Chopped Junior" and "The Chew." He also made regular appearances on "The Rachael Ray Show," per The Houston Chronicle, but a segment wasn't enough. Jake is used to "talking s***" with friends while he cooks, and he wanted to share that unfiltered experience. That's exactly what he set out to do with "Raw," his own web series. "I just wanted to create a show that is true to life," he told Sheen. "I wanted to bring my friends into a space where we could talk about sex and relationships."

Are Jake and Jazz the new Jussie and Jurnee?

Jake Smollett's web series "Raw" didn't take off the way he'd hoped: The trailer is still on YouTube, but all traces of the raunchy food show are gone from his channel. Instead, he teamed up with his sister to create a show called "Living By Design with Jake and Jazz," and it's been a hit for fledgling cable network Cleo TV. The siblings have a natural chemistry that viewers adore, and their show is a unique blend of interior design, DIY, and, of course, cooking.

We know that Jake inherited culinary skills from his mother, and it turns out that she also taught him how to make his own table. "Each episode has a custom piece that I either build or refurbish," he told Ash Lemonade. "Jazz will basically give me a few options – we work on colors together. I'm building pieces all from scratch and it's a great time. It's a passion of mine to build and I've been doing it, helping my mom, since I was a kid." He prepares a meal for the homeowners, while Jazz takes care of dessert — once she's done making all the interior design decisions.

Jurnee and Jussie are still streets ahead in the fame stakes, but Jazz and Jake are proving a popular double act. Their unique lifestyle show returned for a second season in 2021. "We are so proud of this show," Jazz told Black Film. "It has been such a labor of love."