This Jussie Smollett I have seen over the last few days can’t be the smart, gentle, kind, humble, grateful and wonderful actor I first met on March 25, 2015. I interviewed Smolett at WHUR Studios in Washington, DC where I was a member of the afternoon drive-time radio show. A few weeks later, I saw him again and we immediately embraced with a big hug. Then, I saw him for a third time when I interviewed him for the UNCF Evening of the Stars in Atlanta, GA.
Hot off the success of his TV show, “Empire,” during our interview Smollett was thankful to be chosen for the role of Jamal, thankful to his parents that raised him right and thankful for the opportunity to showcase his acting and singing abilities. He was ready to take it all the way and ride the wave to the land of his biggest dreams.
What went so wrong that made this seemingly mentally clear, smart and successful young Black man make up, act out and then transform into a victim played out during the now infamous Robin Roberts interview on the couch at Good Morning America?
When did he begin to feel that he was not famous enough? Why did he believe that he needed to do such an insane act to gain the attention he deemed was not being given to him or his career?
I will tell you why. Because Smollett seems to be as obsessed with being famous as we are at watching famous people…in any form or fashion. He’s afraid to walk down the street and not be recognized. He’s afraid to lose the “we saved a seat for you” access. He’s afraid to lose the “I have a table waiting for you sir” reservation. He’s afraid to lose the money, lifestyle, privileges and attention that becoming a hyped-up, self-worth American celebrity affords you. It’s an addiction to importance, validity and worth that celebrity have come to mean in America. It’s sick and has become a sickness. It can and will destroy you if you can’t recognize it and classify it properly.
Smollett’s first album didn’t do as well as he would have liked. “Empire” is no longer a number one show and there were rumors he might be cut from the show. It doesn’t matter if that’s true or false. To the contrary, some say he was revered on and off set. However, Smollett wasn’t a topic of everyday conversation before January 29, 2019. He wasn’t trending on social media and memes weren’t taking over his identity, but they are now.
Is that famous enough for you, Jussie? Is this enough attention?
You know what they say; any publicity is good publicity. Yeah well, that works sometimes, and particularly really well, for one white man who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who can now use this event to further divide our country by saying that he is a target of a witch hunt and deny his racist ways.
What does it do for Jussie? Ensures long-term unemployment for yet another Black man. Further, it disgraces us all because we claimed him and defended him and then we felt the disappointment in the revelation of the truth, a feeling we all know too well.
So, what now? Is the Black community expected to do the same thing we always do…we pray for him. We talk about it over most of our meals over the next few weeks. We ask questions that we have no answers to on social media. We speculate on what will happen to him in the future and we figure out how not to make this an indictment on us collectively.
Mo Ivory is an attorney, law professor and director of the Entertainment, Sports and Media Law Initiative at Georgia State University College of Law. Additionally, she is the owner of Ivory Consulting, LLC, a consulting firm offering specialized entertainment consulting services to non-profits and political campaigns and recently served as Director of Surrogates and Media for Stacey Abrams for Governor where she was responsible for celebrity engagement and media.
Raised in New York City, Ms. Ivory graduated from Spelman College with a degree in Political Science and earned her law degree from Temple University School of Law.