“They said no Jussie Smollett jokes,” said Rock, who was on stage to present the award for Outstanding Comedy Series. “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. I’d be fucking running Hollywood.
“What the hell was he thinking?” Rock continued. “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.”
Here is video of the moment:
— TV One (@tvonetv) March 31, 2019
Smollett, who wasn’t in attendance, was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his performance on “Empire,” but lost to Jesse Williams for his work on “Grey’s Anatomy.” The award was handed out during the non-televised NAACP Image Awards dinner on Friday.
Reactions to Rock’s jokes were mixed, given the sharp divide between Smollett supporters and critics. The Outstanding Comedy Series award went to ABC’s “black-ish” and during the cast’s acceptance speech, actress Yara Shahidi said firmly, “I stand with Jussie,” to which some members of the audience applauded.
Earlier in the day, on the red carpet, Lena Waithe expressed her support for Smollett while speaking with Variety. “Being queer and black is like having a target on your back every time you walk out the door,” she said.
On March 26, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against Smollett. He was arrested February 21 by Chicago police who accused him of staging and falsely reporting a January 29 hate crime in which he claimed he was attacked by two men who yelled homophobic and racial slurs at him, tied a rope around his neck, and poured a chemical substance on him. Smollett, who denied the allegations, was charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct.
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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Image Awards, which was televised live on TV One. Anthony Anderson repeated as host.