Earlier this week, actor Jussie Smollett of the TV series Empire was assaulted on a Chicago street, in what police are calling a possible hate crime. Police, according to CNN, are looking for surveillance video of the attack — and are looking into reports that the attackers shouted racist or homophobic slurs at the actor, who is both African-American and openly gay.
Smollett came out publicly for the first time to Ellen DeGeneres in a backstage interview conducted in March of 2015 — around the time of his debut on Empire, in which he plays a gay character, per Variety. Smollett declared in the interview that while he doesn’t like to talk about his personal life, “there is no closet,” and that he had never hidden his identity at any point. He also praised DeGeneres as an inspiration to him, personally.
Following the attack, DeGeneres expressed her support for Smollett.
“Four years ago, @JussieSmollett came out on my show,” the talk show host said on Twitter on Wednesday. “I’m sending him and his family so much love today.”
However, the tweet raised eyebrows for some, particularly critics who remembered how strongly DeGeneres had backed Kevin Hart after he was accused of homophobia. Ellen had attempted to intervene with the Motion Picture Academy to get Hart his Oscar-hosting gig back.
“As much love as you sent Kevin Hart?” feminist author Roxane Gay replied to DeGeneres’ tweet. DeGeneres was criticized in some quarters for her aggressive backing of Hart during that controversy, which only took place about a month ago.
As much love as you sent Kevin Hart?
— roxane gay (@rgay) January 30, 2019
Hart himself posted an Instagram note, one with a picture of Smollett and an expression of his support for the actor.
“Sending prayers your way @jussiesmollett,” Hart wrote on his Instagram account, which has over 69 million followers. “This is unbelievably sad. Why are we going backwards… this is disgusting. We as people have to do better. WTF is going on the world???? Why are we falling in love with hate???? God damn it people….Choose love…I repeat…Choose love. I will forever choose love and I will continue to teach my kids how to do the same. Stand strong brother.”
'Empire' star Jussie Smollett was targeted by two attackers who called him racial and homophobic slurs, poured an unknown chemical substance on him and tied a rope around his neck. https://t.co/RLwZ13Wdup pic.twitter.com/XaoqquVZKy
— South Florida Sun Sentinel (@SunSentinel) January 29, 2019
Hart, too, was criticized for the statement — according to a Yahoo News roundup — from those who noted that the sort of homophobia pushed by Hart in his old routines has the potential to lead to real-life violence, such as that reportedly suffered by Smollett.
“This is why someone’s jokes about beating their gay son were never funny,” journalist Ira Madison said on Twitter.