Jussie Smollett, the actor accused of staging a hate crime against himself earlier this year, will not be returning for Empire’s sixth and final season. The show’s co-creator, Lee Daniels, confirmed the news in a statement on Tuesday.
Smollett’s future on the Fox show has been up in the air since he was indicted for allegedly filing a false police report following what he described as a racist and homophobic attack. He was later accused of having hired the men who assaulted him out of dissatisfaction with his Empire salary. Smollett maintained his innocence, and in an unexpected reversal in March, the charges against him were dropped. But questions surrounding the case remained, and the city of Chicago is suing the actor in order to recoup the cost of the investigation.
Due to lingering uncertainty, many wondered whether Smollett’s role on Empire would be eliminated. His departure has now been confirmed, courtesy of a tweet from Daniels:
The revelation arrived in response to a Variety report in which production sources said that Empire writers were working under the expectation that Smollett would eventually be back in Season 6. His character was removed from the final episodes of Season 5 following the controversy “to avoid further disruption on set,” producers said in a statement in February.
Tensions on set have reportedly been high since the case against Smollett, and in April, Empire cast members appealed for his return in a letter to Fox executives. “Together, as a united front, we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire,” read the letter, which was signed by series stars including Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. According to Variety, the Empire team remains divided: The show’s cast, which is mostly black, still believes Smollett is innocent, while many of its mostly white below-the-line crew think him guilty.