Despite the dropping of the 16 felony counts with which he was charged by the Cook County, Illinois state’s attorney, “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s image and career prospects are still in jeopardy.
Currently, Smollett’s team is heavily engaged in the crisis management process, attempting to stop the decline of his public image. According to TMZ and other news outlets, offers of prospective roles have come to a halt since Smollett was arrested and charged with alleged involvement in orchestrating a hoax hate crime.
The actor, who for the time being remains a cast member of the television drama, is reportedly in pursuit of TV appearances so that he can tell his version of what happened and reverse the public relations slide.
Despite his claims of innocence, Smollett went from being viewed as a sympathetic victim to being perceived as a self-centered, morally challenged individual.
Because of the manner in which his criminal case has been jettisoned, he is now at the epicenter of a political corruption scandal, and as public outrage continues to grow he is even being compared to O.J. Simpson on social media, cable television, and talk radio.
There was recently an expectation that Smollett might attend the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ( NAACP) Image Awards that took place this past weekend, but the actor was a no-show. Although he had been nominated for an award, he lost out on getting a win.
As an indicator of his standing within the culture, Smollett’s reputation has been taking a bruising of the comedic kind. During the NAACP awards show, when comedian Chris Rock was presenting the award for Outstanding Comedy Series, the presenter riffed on Smollett, despite having been instructed by the producers to avoid making the “Empire” actor a part of his humor.
“They said no Jussie Smollett jokes,” Rock said. “I know. What a waste of light skin. You know what I could do with that light skin? That curly hair? My career would be out of here. F***ing running Hollywood.”
Rock then struck directly at Smollett’s credibility.
“What the h**l was he thinking?” Rock asked. “From now on, you’re Jessie from now on. You don’t even get the ‘U’ no more. That ‘U’ was respect. You don’t get no respect from me.”
Smollett was also the subject of punch lines during the most recent broadcast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” During a sketch on Weekend Update, Cecily Strong portrayed Fox News’ judicial star Jeanine Pirro.
“[President Trump] is getting rid of Jussie Smollett and he is bringing back Roseanne,” Strong, playing the character of Judge Jeanine, said.
“She [Roseanne] is getting a new show, The Barrs; it’s going to be Roseanne and William Barr…they are going to tell it like they see it, and they are going to take all the d**n Ambien they want, period.”
In another sketch, Smollett was in an imaginary meeting with his manager, the “Empire” executive producer, and TV executives to discuss his criminal case.
A MAGA hat wearing Chris Redd portrays Smollett, who claims that he was the victim of another attack. In an attempt to lend credence to his story, the Smollett character produces a box of Crest Whitestrips, three red letter Ks, a receipt, car keys, and a purple Teletubby.
Even though Smollett appears to have avoided a prosecution in Cook County, the actor is being investigated in a federal probe over whether he authored and mailed a hate-filled letter that arrived on the “Empire” set earlier this year. The letter contained bigoted invectives, a stick figure hanging from a tree, and a white powdery substance that echoed the anthrax letter attacks of 2001.
Federal charges, if brought, could expose Smollett to the possibility of spending 5-20 years behind bars.
“Jussie, you know we’ve got to fire you, right?” the executive producer character on SNL said during the sketch. The line may prove to be prophetic.
Despite supportive statements issued by the producers of “Empire” and Fox, Deadline reports that the actor is not expected to be a part of the series next season.
After the news broke that the charges against Smollett were inexplicably dropped, ratings for “Empire” fell to an all-time low, which was even lower than the debut episode this season that had slid 35 percent when compared to last year’s ratings.
Smollett has already been written out of the remaining episodes of the current fifth season. The actor’s option is up in June 2019. In the interim, the network and producers will determine whether to, as one source said, “cut their losses if need be” by choosing to renew “Empire” without Smollett’s inclusion.