The Jussie Smollett hate crime case has erupted into a flurry of dramatic and conflicting media reports.
Here’s what is known: Chicago police have confirmed Thursday that the two individuals who were previously seen on surveillance footage near where the Empire actor claims he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault on Jan. 29 were brought in for questioning. The police have dubbed the duo “persons of interest” in the case.
Late Thursday, at least two Chicago outlets reported that police believed Smollett worked with the other two individuals to stage the crime as a hoax and that Smollett was being written out of Empire. But a Chicago PD communications officer said Thursday evening on Twitter that the reports are “unconfirmed” as well as “uninformed and inaccurate.” The Chicago ABC station reports that police confirmed Smollett “is considered a victim and the investigation is ongoing.”
Also, 20th Century Fox Television, the studio behind Empire, issued a statement slamming the report: “The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
Local Chicago media reports have additionally claimed that the two individuals being questioned worked as extras on Empire and are of Nigerian descent. Chicago PD has not confirmed this, however, and police have not replied to EW’s request for comment.
Meanwhile, representatives for Smollett say, “Today Jussie did answer routine followup questions for Chicago Police Department and continues to cooperate.”
On Friday, local media reported that Chicago police released this update: “Interviews will resume today with the two people of interest and their attorney. While we haven’t found any video documenting the alleged attack, there is also no evidence to say that this is a hoax. The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as the victim, not a suspect. The investigation continues.”
The news comes on the heels of Smollett, 36, sitting down with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts to share his full account. “I’m pissed off,” he had said of such claims in a promo clip released ahead of Thursday’s segment.
“I went to the Subway, got my order,” Smollett said. “During that time I texted my manager, thinking that he was still in Australia…I said, ‘Call me when you can.’ He called me immediately and while he was on the phone, I heard as I was crossing the intersection, ‘Empire!’ And I don’t answer to Empire, my name ain’t Empire. And I didn’t answer, I kept walking, and then I heard, ”f— Empire n—.’ So I turned around and I said, ‘What the f— did you just say to me?’ And I see the attacker, masked, and he said, ‘This MAGA country, n—,’ and he punched me right in the face. So I punched his a— back and then we started tussling.”
The actor remembered, “There was a second person involved who was kicking me in my back and then it just stopped and they ran off.” It was only after getting back on the phone (which was still on during the attack) with his manager that he realized there was a noose around his neck and a liquid (that appeared to be bleach) poured on his person. “It happened so fast,” he said. “It felt like minutes but it was probably 30 seconds.”
Smollett also addressed reports that his ribs had allegedly been fractured. “My clavicle was messed up, my ribs were bruised but nothing was cracked,” he said. “Like, I walked into the hospital, I walked out of the hospital.
“It became a thing of like, ‘Oh, It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth,'” he said. “It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more,” he added. “A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country.”
Smollett pointed to reports that he allegedly described the attackers as wearing MAGA hats, which he didn’t say: “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f—, they called me a n—. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of a racist sundae.”
—Nick Romano contributed to this report.