The long-awaited trial of actor Jussie Smollett on felony disorderly conduct charges begins today in a Chicago court.
The former Empire actor faces the charges in connection with an incident that occurred in 2019 when he told police–and the media–that he’d been a victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime.
A subsequent investigation turned up evidence that he may have actually faked the attack, paying his alleged assailants to help him stage the crime in order to get a pay raise on Empire.
Smollett’s trial has faced several delays, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in part due to a strange set of circumstances surrounding the case.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx initially recused herself from the case after it came to light that she’d communicated directly with Smollett’s family early in the investigation. She later filed charges only to abruptly drop them shortly thereafter. A special prosecutor then came on the case, filed charges, dropped them, then filed them again.
Amid the chaos, Smollett’s career imploded. Producers dropped him from the final season of Empire, and he hasn’t appeared on screen since. Smollett did direct the independent film B-Boy Blues, which is set to debut on the film festival circuit later this year.
The saga of Jussie Smollett began in January 2019 when the actor alleged that two men wearing “Make America Great Again” hats attacked and beat him on the streets of Chicago. Smollett further alleged the pair tied a noose around his neck and doused him in a bleach-like chemical.
Smollett initially received an outpouring of support from co-stars, Hollywood stars, and American politicians. it all came crashing down, however, when police presented evidence that Smollett had paid two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, $3,500 to help him stage the attack.
Smollett, for his part, has always denied any wrongdoing. If convicted of faking the attack, he faces up to three years in prison.