Despite a vehement denial from series co-creator Lee Daniels, Variety is reporting that the ongoing writers’ room plan for “Empire” Season 6 may involve the return of Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon. Smollett’s role was phased out of the recently wrapped fifth season, following the aftermath of a January off-set incident involving the actor. In a Twitter post responding to the story, Daniels wrote, “Jussie will NOT be returning to Empire.”
Initially claiming that he was the victim of a hate crime, Smollett was eventually charged with filing a false police report after evidence suggested the attack might have been staged. The case was dropped in Chicago courts at the end of March, but the most recent update from the network and studio appeared to imply that Smollett’s run on the show had come to a close.
“By mutual agreement, the studio has negotiated an extension to Jussie Smollett’s option for season six, but at this time there are no plans for the character of Jamal to return to ‘Empire,'” a statement from Fox Entertainment and 21st Century Fox TV read back in April.
That announcement came as the show was still airing new episodes of its most recent season. Meanwhile, the 18-episode Season 6 will be the show’s last. If Jamal is to return, it looks like it would happen closer to the latter half of the season.
This decision, which will likely spark another round of national political debate about the handling of Smollett’s case, may also spark arguments within the “Empire” production environment. Variety’s report also cited ongoing division between cast and crew regarding Smollett’s perceived guilt or innocence.
The network cited potential damage to the on-set environment when revealing that Jamal would be written out of the last two Season 5 episodes.
A statement from the show at the time said, “While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. 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.”
Throughout the process, his attorneys have insisted that Smollett is innocent of the charges brought against him. “This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. That is wrong,” a statement read back in late March.