Empire Creator Lee Daniels Breaks His Silence on Apparent Hate Crime Against Jussie Smollett
"It's taken me a minute to come to social media about this because, Jussie, you are my son," Lee Daniels said
As Empire actor Jussie Smollett recovers from an apparent homophobic and racially charged attack, the Fox show’s creator, Lee Daniels, is speaking out about the incident.
In a video posted to Instagram on Tuesday afternoon, the 59-year-old director began, “It’s taken me a minute to come to social media about this because, Jussie, you are my son.”
“You didn’t deserve — nor does anybody deserve — to have a noose put around your neck, to have bleach thrown on you, to be called, ‘Die, f—t n—r’ or whatever they said to you,” a visibly emotional Daniels continued.
Warning: This video contains NSFW language.
“You are better than that. We are better than that. America is better than that,” he added. “It starts at home … We have to love each other regardless of what sexual orientation we are because it shows that we are … [a] united front and no racist f—k can come in and do the things they did to you.”
“Hold your head up, Jussie,” Daniels continued. “I’m with you, I’ll be there in a minute. It’s just another f—in’ day in America.”
Serayah McNeila (who plays singer Tiana Brown on Empire, also addressed the incident on social media.
“Your light will continue to shine bright, which is the part these disgusting people fail to realize,” the actress, 23, captioned a photo of herself and Smollett on Instagram. “I hope you make a speedy recovery and continue to educate, motivate, and inspire millions. Love you big bro.”
She signed the post with her nickname, Ray, a heart emoji, and the hashtags #stopthehate and #prayingpraying.
Other stars like John Legend, George Takei, Zendaya and Shonda Rhimes have also shown their support.
On Tuesday, TMZ reported that the actor was the victim of an apparent hate crime. The Chicago Police Department later confirmed in a statement to PEOPLE that a member of the hit Fox show was involved in a “racially-charged assault and battery,” though they did not name Smollett.
The statement continued: “A 36 year old man was walking … when two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him. The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim. At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck. The offenders fled the scene.”
The victim was transported to Northwestern Hospital and is in “good condition.”
A Chicago P.D. spokesperson told PEOPLE that no arrests have been made and there are no solid suspects at this time. The officer said the attackers were wearing masks but would not confirm what they said, only that it was racially charged and homophobic. The victim thinks the liquid thrown on him was bleach, but detectives have yet to confirm that. He was by himself at the time of the attack.
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TMZ reports that his attackers allegedly yelled, “This is MAGA country.” PEOPLE has not been able to independently confirm this.
Smollett’s reps did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a statement on the incident: “We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our EMPIRE family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night. We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice. The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face or any despicable act of violence and hatred — and especially against one of our own.”
Smollett first spoke publicly about being gay on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2015, though he said he never considered himself to be in the closet.
“There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in,” he said, adding that deciding not to talk about his personal life is not an attempt to “hide or deny who God made me. There is, without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in,” he reiterated, “and I just wanted to make that clear.”
In a statement about the attack to The Hollywood Reporter, GLAAD said it reached out to Fox and Smollett’s team to offer assistance.
“Jussie is a true champion for LGBTQ people and is beloved by the community and allies around the world,” the statement read.