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Jussie Smollett scandal: 'Empire' cast inks letter supporting actor

Variety

"Empire" stars Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard are appealing to Fox for their embattled co-star Jussie Smollett to return for the show's sixth season.

Henson, Howard, and the rest of the drama series' top cast, penned an April 19 letter to Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier, Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment Chair Dana Walden, Fox Entertainment President Michael Thorn, Empire co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, and other executive producers on the series, Variety confirmed.

"Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire," read the letter, obtained by Deadline. It is signed by Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe, and Nicole Ari Parker.

Smollett has insisted on his innocence after he was charged with 16 felony charges, which were dropped on March 26, for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself in January. He had to forfeit a $10,000 bond and was given credit for community service.

The letter was delivered hours before Smollett's final appearance on the fifth season, which will feature a wedding between his character, middle son Jamal Lyon, and Kai (Toby Onwumere).

In the letter, the actors recognized Smollett's professional conduct on set and maintained his innocence, referencing his dropped charges. They also noted the circumstances around his trial, writing, "It's clearer every day that the extreme political climate in our country has only made our system of justice and the court of public opinion more unjust."

Daniels told TMZ on Wednesday that key players are currently "in discussions" regarding Smollett's fate. Sources tell Variety that a renewal for "Empire" is a near lock, but that whether Smollett will be kept on the show is still unknown.

Representatives for Disney and Fox declined to comment.

Here is the full letter:

"Dear Charlie, Dana, Michael, Lee, Danny, Francie, Brian, Sanaa, Dennis, and Brett,

Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire.

We understand the past months have been difficult to process--sometimes the headlines brought more confusion than clarity, yet we now have a conclusion to this ordeal. Throughout Empire's five seasons working with Jussie and watching how he has conducted himself throughout this traumatic event, we have come to know not just the character Jussie portrays, but also truly come to know Jussie's personal character. He is kind. He is compassionate. He is honest and above all he is filled with integrity. He is also innocent and no longer subject to legal uncertainty with the criminal charges against him having been dropped. We are confident in his lawyer's assurance that the case was dismissed because it would not have prevailed.

Jussie has shown us on and off the set who he really is as a leader. In addition to being a caring friend and cast member who treats every crew member with love and respect, he has spent time with our families and individually supported each of us. These recent and detailed letters from The Black AIDS Institute, the Rainbow Push Coalition and the City Lights Orchestra shine a light on his commitment to true community service. Just a few months ago, Jussie partnered with the Trevor Project to provide support to their volunteer program that allows LGBTQ youth in crisis access to vital counseling services. Prior to that, he gave every cent from his sold out world tour to numerous charities. He has adopted a school inChicago, taught songwriting to incarcerated youth at the Cook County Jail last year and bought the family of Kayden Kinckle, a six-year-old, double amputee, a wheelchair accessible van due to his school district not having a wheelchair accessible school bus. He has traveled to South Africa for service as well as to Jamaica to quietly meet about the safety of LGBTQ youth. This was all done without posturing, the need for attention or even discussion.

This is the Jussie we know.

It's clearer every day that the extreme political climate in our country has only made our system of justice and the court of public opinion more unjust.

It is why now, more than ever, we must stand together as a family. A family is there for us in good times and bad. It can cut through the noise and confusion to understand that there is a person in the center of all this who deserves nothing more than to move forward with his life. We understand that this show is a business. And that business matters to us as well. We are confident our fans will welcome our "Jamal" back into the Empire family as enthusiastically as we will.

That is why we write today to ask you to keep Jussie on the cast so that we can all put this behind us and move forward. Thank you for taking time to hear us. It's our hope that together we will move into our sixth season as the entire Empire family should.

SINCERELY,

Terrence Howard

Taraji P Henson

Bryshere Y. Gray

Trai Byers

Gabourey Sidibe

Nicole Ari Parker

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