Jussie Smollett Talks About HIV Storyline On ‘Empire’

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Since its 2015 television debut, the Fox scripted drama series Empire, has been challenging stereotypes and starting countless conversations. The series currently has one of the only black gay male leading characters in its cast, Jamal Lyon, played by actor and singer Jussie Smollett. Smollett doesn’t just play a black gay man, he is a black gay man and in this season of the show, Smollett has stepped behind the camera to direct a storyline he’s passionate about, according to a report from Entertainment Tonight.

Empire was created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and tells the story of a musical African-American family and their rise to fame. The family is headed by rapper and CEO of Empire Entertainment, Lucious Lyon and his ex-wife Cookie. Before making it big, Lucious and Cookie found themselves caught up with illegal dealings which landed Cookie in jail for 17 years, forcing her to leave her three sons behind. After her release, the family must learn to stay together and run their company while facing the hardships that come their way.

This season, middle son Jamal is dating a journalist played by Toby Onwumere, who has been diagnosed with HIV, which has become a taboo subject of discussion for many. But Smollett thinks it is necessary to explore the topic, he told ET that he had been pitching and pushing for the idea.

“I was so deeply honored and grateful to be able to tell that storyline. This is my favorite storyline for Jamal ever,” Smollett said.

In a behind-the-scenes clip posted to the show’s YouTube channel, Smollett and other characters shared their thoughts.

“I am so in love with this Jamal and Kai storyline. This right here is telling stories and talking about things that I care about the most,” Smollett can be heard saying.

In the clip, audiences also see a conversation between Kai and Cookie where Kai admits to being a “black gay man with HIV” and explains how difficult it has been to come to terms with his reality and how much he truly loves her son.

In the episode titled “The Depth of Grief,” audiences see a worried Cookie complaining to Lucious about Jamal’s decision to be with someone who is living with HIV. Later on, Lucious finds Jamal to check on his son.

“You taking care of yourself? You’re a grown a** man and I don’t ever want to have a safe sex conversation with you…It’s just your mama, She loves you and she gets worried.”

Smollett believes this storyline will continue to push the boundaries while changing the way people view the topic and clarifying any misinformation they might be holding on to. He believes art is just that powerful.