News & Politics

Jussie Smollett Is a Victim of Hollywood or Something

In this courtroom sketch, "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, appears before Cook County Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. with his attorney Jack Prior at Cook County Court, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Tom Gianni)

Now that Jussie Smollett’s reported hate crime has been exposed as a hoax, his supporters in Hollywood are reeling. They were so sure it was true. It confirmed all their biases. It reminded them how much better they are than the rest of us. It was so perfect. Now that their self-satisfaction has blown up in their Botoxed faces, how do they rationalize all their precious prejudices? How do they preserve their worldview in defiance of the facts?

Step 1 is to restore Jussie Smollett to his natural, rightful place as a victim. Today he’s aided in that effort by Scott Johnson, Michael O’Connell, and Chris Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter, who remind us that the real culprit is… Hollywood! No, seriously, the headline is “Jussie Smollett and the Pressure of Hollywood Fame.”

One question is whether the pressures and anxieties of modern fame played any role in Smollett’s seemingly inexplicable behavior. “One of the darkest corners of fame is that it becomes addictive,” says Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in fame and celebrity, “and then you are so afraid of becoming a has-been or yesterday’s news that you might do something desperate…”

Hollywood exerts strange and unrelenting pressures; once released within a person, they can be difficult to contain.

Well, there ya go. Hollywood did it. Who can resist its strange and unrelenting pressures? Otherwise, Smollett’s actions would be “inexplicable.”

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re saying: “But there are lots of actors in Hollywood, and almost none of them are hate-crime hoaxers!” You might think Jussie Smollett did this because he’s a “jerk” or an “idiot” or a “bad person,” but nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a victim of circumstances. This was done to him by forces beyond his control.

Here are a few reasons Jussie is still the aggrieved party here. Put yourself in his shoes and tell me you’d do anything differently:

  • He was a child actor and then the work dried up. Smollett appeared in The Mighty Ducks when he was nine years old, and a few years later he and his five siblings — Jojo, Jazz, Jurnee, Jake, and Jocqui — starred in an ABC sitcom called On Our Own. The show was canceled after one season, and then Jussie didn’t get regular work in Hollywood until Empire premiered 20 years later. In the interim, he was reduced to taking odd jobs, and he tried to launch a music career that never took off. Why, at one point he had to make ends meet with monthly residual checks from The Mighty Ducks. Can you even imagine such a hellish existence?
  • He came out as gay even though he was ambivalent about it at first. In 2015, Smollett appeared on Ellen and talked around audience questions about his sexual orientation. But then he gave Ellen DeGeneres a second interview in which he said he’s gay. He didn’t like the resulting public scrutiny of his private life: “Everybody had these expectations of what I should be, how I should be, who I should be seen with… And I just wasn’t used to that.” So you can see why he’d commit a hoax, right?
  • He got signed to a record label but he didn’t like the executives. The success of Empire led Columbia Records to sign Smollett, but he didn’t enjoy dealing with “a room full of old straight white men.” So he broke the deal, recorded an album on his own independent label, and watched it go nowhere. What would you do if you blew an opportunity like that? You’d pretend to be the victim of a hate crime, that’s what.
  • Faking a hate crime doesn’t disprove the fact that hate crimes really happen. A few weeks ago, former movie star Ellen Page went viral when she blamed people who had nothing to do with a hate crime that didn’t actually happen. But in a guest editorial for THR today, Page explains: “The conversation around Jussie Smollett has led us all to examine hate violence and its implications and aftermath. I had no reason to doubt Jussie. My work on Gaycation — the docuseries I produced to chronicle LGBTQ+ stories from around the world — introduced me to many survivors of hate violence. I know how prevalent and pernicious it can be. If this situation was staged, it could make victims even more reluctant to report these crimes.” See, it’s not Ellen Page’s fault for spreading a hoax. She’s not responsible for saying things that weren’t true. If she’s wrong, why is she still so angry? Page was speaking her truth, and she’s a victim, and so is Jussie, so you should really stop oppressing them with your “facts” and “logic.”

Jussie Smollett sought fame and fortune his whole life. Then he got it, and it wasn’t enough. So he pretended to be a victim of a hate crime to draw even more attention to himself. If you hold him accountable for his own actions, you’re just hurting actual victims.

Well, Smollett is an actual victim too, but you know what I mean. Shut up, you straight white male!