In court and away, Smollett fights for his reputation, his career | Entertainment

CHICAGO (AP) – Outside the courtroom where former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett fights charges accusing him of lying to Chicago police about being a victim of an anti-gay racist attack, his publicist presented a list of supporters to the assembly. television cameras.

Famous opera singer Lauren Michelle, who also appeared on “Empire,” spoke about how one of her best friends from high school maintained her humanity despite attacks on her character. Smollett’s pastor in New York City, Damon Marks, said the person prosecutors are representing in court is not “the Jussie I know.”

And activist Bella BAHHS, who met Smollett as she protested the police murder of a 16-year-old, said she didn’t trust the Chicago police not to make things up – including the allegations against her friend.

The daily mike towers have been part of a larger strategy underway since Smollett’s trial began at the Chicago courthouse about a week ago: to try to make sure the 39-year-old comes out of this. scandal and legal issues with his reputation and career intact, or at least suffered as little damage as possible, whatever the outcome.

The charges against Smollett – six counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police about the January 2019 attack – are low-intensity felonies and carry a three-year prison sentence. Legal experts say if found guilty, he would likely get probation and be ordered to do community service.

The impact on his livelihood could be much more serious. Taking the witness stand on Monday, Smollett said “I have lost my livelihood”. Its media relations team, led by a former Chicago TV reporter, released a statement to The Associated Press from family friend Fania Davis, who said Smollett had already lost income and ” many professional opportunities “due to a” character assassination and disinformation campaign “. “by Chicago Police.

“It is an assault on his personal reputation, his career and his soul,” said Davis, whose sister is civil rights activist Angela Davis. “He could easily have answered a plea, with a slap on the wrist, and then moved on with his life. But instead he chose to stand against injustice. “

Publicist Danny Deraney, who works with entertainment personalities and often supports crisis PR clients but does not work with Smollett, said the artist would be hurt in any attempt to return to his career because he was far from a household name before, and so much has learned his identity due to the assault and the charges against him.

“No one really knew who he was unless you were watching the show,” Deraney said. “At the moment, I don’t see any other way for people to see him and not know him for this.”

The atypical accusations, the absurdity of his alleged crime, and his tendency to feed comedians can hurt him more than accusations, even of serious crimes.

“Being in the public eye as much as being on TV or in the movies or whatever, it’s going to be difficult for him. I don’t think people are going to take it seriously, ”said Deraney. “People who become the butt of jokes, of doing things as ridiculous and absurd as what would have happened, have a harder time working. “

Part of Smollett’s strategy plays out in court proceedings, where Smollett testified that he was the victim of a hate crime after two brothers said the actor recruited them to lead the attack on him in order that he can make it known via social networks. Police said they were able to corroborate the siblings’ accounts.

Smollett’s defense attorneys have argued that the brothers carried out the attack because they are homophobic and dislike Smollett, who is gay. They say the men told police everything was staged by the actor so they could shake him up for $ 1 million each not to testify.

Smollett’s legal team also said Judge James Linn was biased against them, at one point asking for the trial to be set aside – something Linn denied – after he interrupted his questioning of one of the brothers on the homophobic language he used, calling it “collateral” material. A defense attorney also claimed that Linn had “rushed” at her – which they could use as a ground for appeal if Smollett was convicted, and to argue in court of public opinion that the system law had wronged him unjustly.

And regardless of the trial, Smollett and his family’s team – which includes five siblings, most of whom are also actors and an active mother in the civil rights struggle – have promoted both the man and his talents.

On the first day of his trial, Smollett learned that a film he wrote, directed and produced, “B-Boy Blues”, had won the “Fan Favorite Narrative Film” award at the American Black Film Festival Awards. His publicist broke the news. to reporters, as well as a link to a 2016 New York Times article about the acting chops and activism of the Smollett family – supporting causes like HIV / AIDS and the Black Lives Matter movement – and a letter support from activists and artists, including Davis and Danny Gantier.

On Monday, his team sent a photo of Smollett and his family meeting with civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson over the weekend.

Early in his acting career, Smollett starred with his siblings in the television series “On Our Own”, about a group of orphaned siblings, which aired for one season. He has had other television and film roles, most notably as Langston Hughes in “Marshall”, about Thurgood Marshall, the first black judge of the Supreme Court.

Her biggest role was in “Empire,” a musical drama about an entertainment company that was filmed in Chicago. Smollett starred in the show for four years starting in 2015. The producers renewed his contract for the sixth and final season in 2019, but he never appeared in an episode.

Deraney said it can be difficult to predict who will be accepted back into public life. A supportive family in the entertainment industry like Smollett did – Sister Jurnee’s acting career is flourishing – might not be a huge career advantage initially, but if they rise to important positions and can hire her for roles, it might.

“If you have people behind you who are financially secure, this whole industry is built on nepotism, it all depends on who you know. If his family stands behind him, it will be good for him, ”said Deraney.

Fania Davis said in her statement to AP that Smollett came from “a family of warriors of justice” like her family and her sister’s family.

“We are very proud that even in this difficult time, Jussie has persevered and created art at the highest level and we are confident that he will continue to do so,” she said.


Check out the full PA coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.


Associated Press entertainment writer Andrew Dalton contributed to this story from Los Angeles.

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