Jussie Smollett

A Lyon share of trouble

Author ID: Melissa Adotevi is an UK born Voiceover Artist now living and working in Paris with over 20 years experience with film, TV, radio, and stage.

It's impossible to think that someone like Jussie Smollett, a young, handsome, talented performer, a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights and issues, family friends with Civil Rights Activist Angela Davis, someone with the world at their feet, would seemingly risk it all by staging a fake hate crime motivated by his alleged dissatisfaction with his salary on the hit show Empire. His hiring of the two Herculean Nigerian brothers is laughable if it were not akin to a Greek tragedy. Smollett claimed that two white maga cap-wearing masked men attacked him in Chicago at 2 AM, tied a noose around his neck and poured bleach on him. They shouted "This is maga country" and "Aren't you that gay n***er off that show Empire?"

It's been reported that the encounter lasted about 45 seconds. 45 seconds of madness it would seem is all it takes to blow up your life and destroy your career.

So what happened (According to Smollett)? He states that he was set upon by two Caucasian males walking back home from Subway food outlet at 2 AM in Chicago, and the attack was racially motivated as he was racially abused, had bleach poured on him and a noose tied around his neck. As it turns out, the two perps were known to Smollett and were, in fact, two Nigerian brothers.

The brothers, superintendent Eddie Johnson said, "punched him a little bit," but the scratches and bruises that were seen in the photos that were flashed up on news networks worldwide of Smollett's face were "most likely self-inflicted." He also told police that the area around the eyes of the attacker's eyes was "white-skinned."

Smollett waited 45 minutes before calling the police and when they arrived, he still had the noose tied around his neck. In his defense, we have still only been presented with evidence from the police side, not any evidence from Jussie's defense team. It has now come to light that the $3,500 cheque Smollett allegedly gave the brothers to carry out the attack was actually given to the brothers as their fee for being Jussie's personal trainers.

The burning question that must be on everyone's lips is a collective "Why, Jussie?" So much of this story just doesn't make any sense, whichever way you look at it.

Since getting his big break on Fox's hit show Empire, his character Jamal Lyon was the one a lot of people connected with. The talented son of Lucious and Cookie Lyon just wanting acceptance from his homophobic father, his lovable dimples when he flashed that megawatt smile, but he was no pushover either. His character was fiercely protective of his family, especially his mother. But his standout feature is most notably his killer vocals. His all-around appeal made Jussie a TV Network's dream.

Many naysayers questioned the online support Smollett received from the get-go and who were quick to defend him and express their communal disgust at something like this happening to a thoroughly decent human being (instead of waiting for all the facts to come to light). Two Democratic US senators and presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris came out to show their support of Jussie, and likened the attack to "a modern-day Lynching."

In their defense though, why would anyone have reason to doubt that he'd been attacked? Who would think that someone like Smollett, an openly gay black man, would make up or fake something as abhorrent as a hate crime and racist attack? It never crossed my mind not to believe him or to think that it was a hoax or that he orchestrated his attack! Not to mention the ramifications that this implies for the black community.

A judge said, the "most vile" part of this incident is the use of the noose, because historically it symbolizes the lynching of black people in America.

As a person of colour myself, this type of betrayal cuts deep, but I still find myself thinking that this must all be some awful, awful misunderstanding. But what misunderstanding? Some social experiment that went horribly wrong? So wrong in fact, that it resulted in your arrest, being charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report? Your character being cut from The Golden Globe-nominated show you star in? You are no longer an activist, you are now a figure of ridicule and disappointment. And just like that, with a flash of a maga hat, your whole fanbase and peers are shaking their heads in utter disbelief with your behaviour, and turn their back on you and all your achievements. A few days after the attack, he addressed a crowd at his concert and declared that he is the "gay Tupac." Two weeks after the attack, Smollett gave an interview with ABC's Robin Roberts to protest his innocence. This interview has been viewed millions of times with many believing it to be a masterclass in deception.

So what could have motivated Smollett to do this? We should turn to Linguistics teacher at Columbia University John McWorther, who alludes to something altogether more narcissistic, which he calls "Victimhood chic."

He writes, "The problem is that amid the complexities of 2019 as opposed to 1969, keeping the struggle going is more abstract, less dramatic, than it once was… How do you make as stark and monumental a statement as a King or a Malcolm these days? With a touch too much thirst for glory, and a tad too little inclination for analysis, one might seek to be attacked the way they were." He goes on, "For Smollett, being a successful actor and singer might not have been quite as exciting as being a poster child for racist abuse in Trump's America," and maybe this victimhood culture is something younger people today feel is a viable way to catch the attention of the masses.

Even the ever-popular Dr. Phil has added his 50 cents worth, dissecting the thoughts behind this hoax on the Joe Rogan show about "victimhood."

He says "there's been a lot of research on people that do hate crime hoax's, their primary motivation is sympathy and attention, etc. They feel it's emblematic of how the system treats them overall, this is just a dramatic example of that. They feel I'm treated like this anyhow, I'm discriminated against, I suffer bias, I'm put down, this is just a focused example of that. So I'm really not lying, I'm just role-playing how I'm overall treated."

At the same time, no one seems to be talking much about the two Nigerian brothers' role in all this. What about their accountability? As far as we know, they weren't blackmailed into doing this or threatened. Surely they should feel the hand of the law too. Could it be that the brothers' greed and jealousy convinced them to turn their back and effectively snitch on Smollett the minute the police knew something was up?

Not much has been reported on the thoughts of Smollett's Empire castmates, in fact, they've all been noticeably lacking in their support of Smollett. Only Terrance Howard and Taraji P. Henson have come out publicly to show him support. No doubt the network want to see how this whole sorry affair plays out.

The last time we saw Smollett’s character Jamal Lyon on Empire, he was getting married to his male partner, making TV history by showing the first gay marriage between two black men on US primetime television. A real sign of the times and a “look how far we’ve come moment.” Sadly, instead is was marred by Smollett’s off-screen trouble.

On March 14, 2019, all 16 felony charges against Smollett were sensationally dropped just as it was looking like he would be facing some serious jail time. The prosecutor's office offered no details as to why all the charges were dropped. Smollett's legal team said his record has now "been wiped clean." However, this does not seem to be the case. Smollett has been fighting a lawsuit filed by the city of Chicago, which is insisting that he repay them the 1,800 plus hours spent investigating his crime. A trial date is expected next year.

After police bodycam footage was released showing Smollett the night of the attack with the noose, Smollett seems to have kept his head down and has wisely shied away from any public appearances. The only recent mention of Mr. Smollett was when he was named in the new Dave Chapelle Netflix Special Sticks and Stones; funny and brutal at the same time.

I don't think the human condition allows us not to come away from this story without a little sympathy for Smollett. He obviously has some stuff he's got to work through, but should he be shunned for life? Doesn't everyone deserve another chance? I leave you with the words of Taraji P. Henson when she was asked about Smollett at the recent Golden Globes: "We miss Jussie, he's family to us there's no way we can throw five years of family away."

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Melissa Adotevi
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