Fox announced in April that its series Empire would return in the fall for one more reason, which will be its last. Per The Inquisitr, it was announced at the time that there were “no plans” to bring back the show’s embattled co-star, Jussie Smollett, but that the network had extended his option, leaving the door open to a return down the line.
Now, the series’ creator, Lee Daniels, has shut that door.
After Variety reported Tuesday, citing “multiple production sources,” that the Empire writers were thinking about possible final-season storylines with an eye towards Smollett returning in the second half of the season, Daniels responded to the trade publication on Twitter.
“This is not factual,” Daniels tweeted. “Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire.”
Daniels had not previously declared that definitively.
Smollett was part of a high-profile controversy earlier this year when he claimed to have been the victim of a hate crime late one winter night on the streets of Chicago. Smollett maintained that he was a victim for several weeks until police began to doubt the story, and he was ultimately charged with filing a false police report after two men claiming to be his accomplices told police they had helped Smollett stage the crime.
Charges against Smollett were later mysteriously dropped, leading to a separate political controversy in Chicago; the city has also sued Smollett for $130,000, claiming that their investigation of a crime they believe never happened wasted the valuable time of police. In the meantime, Smollett was written out of the final episodes of the Empire season that aired earlier this spring.
— lee daniels (@leedanielsent) June 4, 2019
Per Variety, there is a significant divide on the Empire set between “the show’s primarily black cast members, who still believe Smollett is innocent, and the mostly white below-the-line crew, many of whom believe Smollett is guilty.” A group of Empire cast members, including stars Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, and Gabourey Sidibe signed a letter in support of the actor returning to the show in April.
Smollett maintains that he really was attacked and has told the truth throughout.
President Trump weighed in on the Smollett case in late May, declaring on Twitter that Smollett had committed a “hate crime” by claiming that his attackers had referenced “MAGA country” while attacking him. “Serious stuff, and not even an apology to millions of people,” the president posted on May 25.