Taraji P. Henson isn’t here to debate Jussie Smollett’s innocence. She wants him freed

Taraji P. Henson posing in a black and pink outfit
Taraji P. Henson arrives at the 2021 Celebration of Black Cinema & Television in Los Angeles.
(Jordan Strauss / Invision / Associated Press)

“Empire” star Taraji P. Henson is defending her TV son, Jussie Smollett, after the actor was recently convicted on charges of staging a hate crime and sentenced to 150 days in jail.

On Sunday, Henson showed support for her former co-star on Instagram by posting a black square with the hashtag #FreeJussie. The Emmy and Oscar nominee — who played Cookie Lyon opposite Smollett’s Jamal Lyon in “Empire” — is among several Hollywood luminaries who have defended Smollett over the last week.

For the record:

12:43 p.m. March 16, 2022A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Amanda Seales made comments about Jussie Smollett’s trial on a recent episode of “The Real.” The episode aired in 2020 after Smollett’s indictment.

“I am not here to debate you on his innocence but we can agree that the punishment does not fit the crime,” Henson wrote in the caption of her post.


To underscore her point, Henson compared Smollett’s situation to that of Carolyn Bryant, the white woman who admitted in 2017 to lying about Emmett Till verbally and physically assaulting her before Bryant’s husband and his half brother killed the 14-year-old Black youth in 1955 Mississippi. No one — including Bryant, who is still alive — ever served jail time for Till’s killing.

By contrast, Smollett — who was accused of lying to authorities about a racist, homophobic attack and maintains his innocence — has been sentenced to about five months in jail.

“Emmett Till was brutally beat and ultimately murdered because of a lie and none of the people involved with his demise spent one day in jail, even after Carolyn Bryant admitted that her claims were false,” Henson continued in her statement.

“No one was hurt or killed during Jussie’s ordeal. He has already lost everything, EVERYTHING! To me as an artist ... that in itself is punishment enough.”

Former ‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett was sentenced Thursday to 150 days in jail and 30 months of probation for lying about a racist and homophobic attack.

On March 10, a Chicago judge described Smollett’s crime as “a crime of opportunity” and a “crime of premeditation” while sentencing him to an additional 30 months of felony probation and ordering him to pay more than $120,000 in restitution to the city. Not long after suspicions arose about Smollett’s claims, the performer’s “Empire” character was written off the musical drama.

“He can’t get a job,” Henson wrote. “No one in Hollywood will hire him and again as an artist who loves to create, that is prison. My prayer is that he is freed and put on house arrest and probation because in this case that would seem fair. Please #freejussie.”

Henson is not the first person to link the Smollett case to the Till case. In a 2020 episode of “The Real,” “Insecure” star Amanda Seales made the same comparison while condemning Smollett’s indictment.

‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett was sentenced to five months in jail for staging an attack on himself in 2019. This Q&A explains how we got here.

“Why aren’t they bringing charges against all the white people that call the cops for BS every single day?” Seales said back then. “Even if it was a hoax, this is really happening all the time. ... Emmett Till’s accuser ... announced that she was lying about it. They should have put the shackles on her that day, and she’s walking around.

“No one was hurt in this situation. Nobody. You know what they’re mad about? Their time, their resources ... Taxpayers’ resources are being used every day to imprison people who have done nothing but be an addict, so I don’t want to hear about Jussie Smollett.”

Other entertainment figures, including “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah and “The Batman” actor Jeffrey Wright, have opposed the wave of public hatred toward Smollett, regardless of whether he is innocent or guilty. In solidarity with Smollett, #FreeJussie has been trending this month on social media.

‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett was booked in Chicago after being sentenced to five months in jail and more than two years of probation.

“What Jussie Smollett did was dumb as hell,” Noah tweeted last week. “But it’s crazy that he’s gonna spend more time in jail than the [Sackler] family who are mostly to blame for America’s opioid epidemic.”

“Jussie Smollett screwed up,” Wright tweeted. “Now he’s facing consequences. But the fiending obsession with him is weird. They got more venom for him than for the sociopath who bombs a maternity hospital and then lies about it. Odd stuff.”