For a year, Jussie Smollett was shielded from the backlash. Then, he Googled himself

·3 min read
A man with a shaved head wearing a black face mask and a black suit
Actor Jussie Smollett attends his 2022 sentencing hearing in Chicago. (Brian Cassella / Associated Press)

In a rare interview, Jussie Smollett recently opened up about the aftermath of being accused of staging his own hate crime in Chicago.

While speaking on Wednesday with Sirius XM's Sway Calloway, the former "Empire" star reflected on 2019 when he was arrested for filing a false police report claiming that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in an affluent Chicago neighborhood.

Earlier this year, Smollett was convicted in Chicago on charges of staging a hate crime and sentenced to 150 days in jail. But the actor, director and musician, who has maintained his innocence, was released from jail shortly thereafter pending appeal.

"The prison system needs to be dismantled," Smollett said on "Sway in the Morning."

"I know that I didn't do this. ... That place is not meant for redemption. That place is not meant to make you come out better than when you went in."

After the arrest, a swift and severe backlash ensued. All over the internet, people piled on Smollett for allegedly wasting the police's time and resources for his personal gain. But Smollett didn't see any of the criticism until a year after he was detained, he told the radio program.

"When I say I was shut off from the world, I was shut off from the world," he said. "My family took my phone. I did not have my phone. ... I was not allowed to get on social media."

Smollett added that his loved ones protected him from the negativity "in a really beautiful way" until one day, he decided to Google himself.

"Worst idea ever," he said. "I really saw what it was, and it was so painful because I was like, 'Ooh, he said that about me? Oh my God. She said that?'"

In the wake of the alleged attack and before he was arrested, Smollett sat down to discuss the ordeal with Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" — a bombshell interview he now regrets doing.

"I watched it and I was mortified," he told Calloway. "Every single word that I said in that interview was the truth, but there was a certain level of performative nature that came from it because I didn't want to be there. ...

"I was so angry and so offended that I had to go on national television and explain something that happened to me. And it was so political, and it was all of those things, and I found myself dealing with my own internalized homophobia."

Smollett appeared on "Sway in the Morning" to promote his newly released film, "B-Boy Blues," on BET+. His directorial debut is his first Hollywood project since he was fired from "Empire" after his 2019 arrest.

Several entertainment figures, including Smollett's "Empire" co-star Taraji P. Henson, have protested the outcome of his Chicago trial and posted the hashtag #FreeJussie on social media.

"I've never felt healthier and more grateful," Smollett told Calloway. "I'm getting out of the idea of trying to convince or trying to hope that people see the truth. ... I'm really just going where the love is."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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