*Note: This piece was written prior to the dismissal of the multicount indictment against Jussie Smollett. I made the decision to still publish this blog as is because I believe the content remains relevant and my opinion has not changed.
I’ve been following the strange, sad and unsettling saga of the Jussie Smollett case, and I feel just as confused as a lot of other people.
In January of this year, Smollett reported to Chicago Police that he had been physically assaulted by two unidentified men who yelled homophobic and racist slurs at him. Smollett said that the men also hung a rope around his neck and poured an “unknown substance” on him during the attack.
After launching an intense hate crime investigation, Chicago police later disputed Smollett’s account of his attack. The actor was later arrested and charged with allegedly filing a false police report. In February a Chicago grand jury indicted Smollett on 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police about his attack. Smollett pled not guilty to the charges and is due back in court in April.
So did Smollett really lie about his attack or is he telling the truth about what happened? Why in the world would someone lie about being attacked in the first place? These are million-dollar questions that we may never really have answers to. In the words of writer Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
I had honestly given up trying to wrap my mind around it all. Between this case, along with the latest Michael Jackson and R. Kelly developments, I am emotionally exhausted.
That is until I heard Iyanla Vanzant’s comments on the Smollett allegations. Vanzant shared her thoughts with a reporter from Variety during a red-carpet interview at the recent ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards. When asked “how do we make sense of this?” Mother Vanzant did not disappoint.
“We make sense by saying wow look at us. He’s one of us. He did, if he did this, at the core, he did what we do every day. He told a lie. That’s what he did. Now we can make up whatever we want about it. He told a lie, the same as the leader of this country does every day,” Vanzant said.
“At the core, if he did this, it means he has an unheard, unspoken, unacknowledged pain. Because people in pain seek to get attention. If he did this, it speaks to how we are not really taught how to really live in fame. And live before the cameras.
If he did this, if he did it, I say that we each have to look at ourselves and ask ourselves, if he were to come forward and tell the whole complete truth right now, would we condemn him and persecute him? Would we rather he go through a legal battle and an adversarial process, for what? Would we let him tell the truth now? That’s not about Jussie, that’s about us.”
I believe that as fans and admirers, we have a habit of placing celebrities and public figures on golden pedestals, only to become outraged and disappointed when we spy glimpses of their flaws and personal failures. When they let us down or we discover that they too are struggling with the same human temptations, insecurities and pressures that come with life.
Fame, money, power and access can sometimes hide who people really are … at least for a time. It can also magnify who people really are when the bright lights and cameras are turned off.
By no means am I dismissing the severity of these allegations or excusing Smollett’s actions, if he did in fact lie about his attack. But I’ve been alive long enough to know that anything and everything is possible, and that people lie every day about all kinds of things. Perhaps not always to this extreme, but they do. I’ve lied too. Doesn’t it make it right either way.
Vanzant also added that people can lie out of fear, pain and anger. But it was this last comment about the Smollett allegations that hit me right in the gut.
“Instead of making this about him because he’s on Empire, let’s make it about the fragility of who we are as human beings. We are so fragile.”
Whether Smollett is proven innocent or guilty in a court of law, I do believe that he’s a man who is battling personal demons that no amount of money or fame can rid him of. I believe he’s a man in pain and I pray for him. I pray that he allows God to restore his peace and to remind him of the man that he was created to be apart from his celebrity.
As Mark 8:36 often reminds us … what does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his own soul? I pray that Smollett chooses to walk the path of truth, healing and forgiveness, even when it’s hard. Even when it hurts. I pray that same peace, healing and forgiveness touch everyone who has been hurt and angered by this whole situation and its aftermath.
And if Smollett did lie, he must still take full responsibility for his actions, apologize and acknowledge the pain that he’s caused. He must own it, make it right and honor the best of his humanity.
Update: On March 26, 2019, prosecutors from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed all 16 felony counts against Smollett.