Executive producers of the Fox drama “Empire” said in a statement Friday that Jussie Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, will be removed from the current season’s final two episodes.
The statement comes a day after Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report about a racist and homophobic attack he said happened to him last month in Chicago. He faces up to three years in prison. Prosecutors say Smollett paid two men to help him stage a fake attack, which received widespread media attention and prompted an outpouring of support from politicians, advocacy groups and celebrities, including several of his “Empire” colleagues.
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our ‘Empire’ family for the past five years, and we care about him deeply,” reads the statement, attributed to a group of the Fox drama’s executive producers, including co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong.
“While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out,” it continues. “We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
A representative for Twentieth Century Fox confirmed that Smollett returned to the “Empire” set in Chicago on Thursday, but could not provide further details. Smollett was reportedly there to film a scene for the show’s 18-episode fifth season, which returns to the network March 13. Fox had previously denied that Smollett’s character, an R&B artist and the son of two hip-hop moguls, was going to be written out of the show.
Fox has not announced Smollett’s fate on the series, a prime-time favorite that saw virtually unprecedented ratings during its 2015 debut season. Though the drama isn’t the ratings juggernaut it was in early seasons, it maintains a dedicated fan base.
“Empire,” which has been on hiatus since December, has nine remaining episodes this season. It has not been renewed for a sixth season.
In a statement following Smollett’s arrest Thursday, Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Entertainment said they “understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation, and we are considering our options.”
Smollett has denied that he played a role in the attack.
"Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing,” his attorneys said in a statement Thursday.