Here's What Jussie Smollett Told Us About Racial Reparations, Last Year

Empire actor Jussie Smollett leaves Cook County jail after posting bond on February 21, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett has been accused of arranging a homophobic, racist attack against himself. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

By Mike Roe with John Horn

Chicago police allege that actor Jussie Smollett faked a hate crime by staging his own beating, supposedly because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the TV show Empire. As part of the incident, which occured on January 29, Smollett allegedly placed a noose around his neck.

Less than a year ago, Smollett was an executive producer on the Epix TV series America Divided, which explored injustice and inequality.

In May 2018, John Horn of The Frame interviewed Smollett about the episode focused on truth and reconciliation after slavery, which included lynching. With the allegations that he masterminded (we're using that word loosely) a hate crime hoax, a number of Smollett's comments from that interview take on a new cast.

"It really was kind of a slap in the face to progress."

"We want to celebrate history, but whose history? Whose agenda?"

"Sometimes you've got to shame people into doing the right thing."

But one thing he said speaks the most directly to his current situation. Horn asked Smollett about how the audience response to America Divided had affected him as an artist. Here's what he said:

"We have a platform where a lot of people are listening to us, as artists... If we're good people, we could lead a lot of people to be understanding, to be loving, to be caring, to be forthright, and honest and loyal. But we could also help steer them into a completely opposite direction. It really makes you understand the responsibility to tell the truth."

BRINGING LIGHT TO LYNCHINGS

Smollett executive produced the show with TV legend Norman Lear and former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson. In the "Whose History?" episode, he went to Tennessee to examine the growing movement to bring down Confederate monuments as well as efforts to commemorate African-American lynching victims.

On the show, he interviewed 97-year-old Charles Morris, whose brother was lynched. Smollett also talked about the 1939 castration and lynching of Jesse Lee Bond, whose body ended up at the bottom of a river. He went on to talk about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, intended to shame cities into acknowledging what had happened in their past.

"Sometimes, you have to shame people into doing the right thing," Smollett said.

THE LEGACY OF THE CONFEDERACY

During the Frame's interview with Smollett, he said that one of the most surprising things he learned while working on America Divided had to do with the period when statues memorializing the Confederacy were put up.

"Some were erected during Jim Crow, some were erected right after slavery," Smollett said. "If you think about it, it really was kind of a slap in the face to progress, if you will. But also the fact of how we as a nation are okay with erasing the truth of history."

When talking about those who want to honor Nathan Bedford Forrest — a Confederate Army general who was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — Smollett explored how we frame the past.

"We want to celebrate history, but whose history? Whose agenda?" Smollett said. "That's what really, really was interesting, is just the humanity of it all — or the lack of humanity."

He interviewed Lee Millar of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, also a spokesman for Forrest's family. He noted how frustrated he felt while interviewing Millar and how he had to hold himself back in some of his comments.

"I'm an artist, I'm not a journalist," Smollett said. "I kept thinking to myself, 'What would Oprah do?'"

You can watch the show on Epix (if you have a subscription) or via Kanopy, which you can access with a library card.