If Jussie Smollett Lied, What Then?
Do we make all crime survivors defendants in their own attacks?
If only Empire’s fifth and current season contained a storyline as compelling as the arc involving one of its stars that has been playing out in real life over the past three weeks.
Jussie Smollett, the 36-year-old gay black actor/singer who plays gay black singer Jamal Lyon on the FOX drama series, has been at the center of a “Was he or wasn’t he?” controversy over his claim that he was assaulted by two “MAGA”-shouting men on the deserted streets of Chicago at 2 a.m. on January 29.
Almost from the moment the story broke, reactions were predictably divided. This is Trump’s America, after all. One side was incensed that such a racist, homophobic attack could have happened in the name of “MAGA.” (According to Smollett, the assailants shouted racist and homophobic slurs as well as “This is MAGA country!” during the scuffle.)
On the other side, skeptics were rolling their eyes. The story, they insisted, didn’t add up. Why didn’t street cameras capture the assault? Why didn’t Smollett immediately give his phone to authorities to confirm that he had been speaking with his manager at the time of the attack? Why would Trump supporters know an actor from a show as black as Empire? (The latter assertion/question, implies, perhaps unintentionally, that Trumpians are indeed too racist to watch a TV series with a predominantly black cast.)
Even Donald Trump Jr. joined the Smollett bashing on Twitter, presumably not out of any interest in justice but to protect the sanctity of “MAGA,” the acronym for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan. Anti-Smollett tweets and retweets have dominated Junior’s Twitter feed over the past several days. What an obedient son.
In a way, some of the skepticism feels as dubious to me as the alleged assault does to the doubters. If it had happened to a white celebrity who said the attackers were Muslim or Mexican, if it had been a random beatdown…