Jussie Smollett was absent at Saturdays 50th NAACP Image Awards, where he had been nominated for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for his work on Empire. Even so, his presence hung heavily over the event—with Chris Rock brazenly calling out the embattled star from the stage, while other, more supportive celebrities defended Smollett.
Just seconds after stepping onto the stage to present the outstanding comedy series award, Rock said he had been told not to talk about Smollett—who had lost in his category to Greys Anatomy actor Jesse Williams Instead, Rock ignored the warning and addressed the scandal.
“They said no Jussie Smollett jokes. I know!” Rock quipped. “What a waste of light skin. You know what I could do with that light skin? That curly hair? My career would be out of here. Fucking running Hollywood!”
“What the hell was he thinking?” Rock continued. “From now on, youre Jessie from now on. You dont even get the U no more. That U was respect. You dont get no respect from me.”
Smollett was hospitalized in Chicago in January after an attack police initially treated as a hate crime. Weeks later, however, Chicago police turned their attention to Smollett himself, claiming that he had staged the attack due to dissatisfaction with his salary on Empire. Smollett was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct—but on March 26, Cook County prosecutors dropped all charges, saying in a statement: “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smolletts volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”
As Rock mocked Smollett, the audience inside Hollywoods Dolby Theatre—including HBO star Issa Rae and Daily Show host Trevor Noah—burst out laughing. But moments after Rock handed the comedy series award to the cast of ABCs Blackish, Yara Shahidi took to the microphone and delivered a different message: “I stand with Jussie,” she said.
Backstage, Shahidi said she had no regrets for expressing her support for Smollett onstage. She felt she had to defend him in light of Rocks jokes: “I meant what I said,” she told Vanity Fair.
Also standing with Smollett is Orange is the New Black star Danielle Brooks, who is friends with the Empire actor. Shes been in contact with him since the scandal broke, she said, and will continue to provide him unconditional love.
“We are friends. As his friend, Im just there for him. Thats all I know what to do,” Brooks told Vanity Fair on the red carpet prior to the ceremony. “Hes got a whole team of people helping him and telling him what to do, and he has a whole family that loves him, and are directing him. For me and everyone else, all we can do is support him.”
Despite the unfavorable public opinion of Smollett, Brooks hopes others will also help him through this difficult time.
“I think we need to stay by his side no matter what. Thats the biggest thing. I cant imagine what hes gone through either way,” she said. “So we just need to support him in any way we can out of love. He needs to be loved right now. Theres a lot of hateful things being said about him, and we need to love him.”
Officials from the city of Chicago announced on Thursday that they are seeking $130,00 from Smollett as restitution for the cost of the investigation he is accused of initiating. But at the Image Awards, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, of California, argued that Smollett should not have to pay for those fees.
“He forfeited his bond. Thats all that they can ask for,” she said on the red carpet. “Thats all thats necessary.”
The NAACP Image awards were not only focused on Smollett. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were both the top winners of the night. Jay-Z was honored with the Presidents Award for his civil rights service, while Beyoncé was named entertainer of the year. The rapper began his acceptance speech by quoting President Abraham Lincoln: “Its not the amount of years in your life, its the amount of life in your years that count in the end.”
The hip hop mogul then dedicated his award to his 93-year-old grandmother, Hattie White, who is “so full of life” and “very tough.”
“She raised seven kids, and on top of that, her kids had kids. And we were all raised in the same house, one household,” Jay-Z said. “So I was speaking to her the other day, and I asked her, How much money did you make? She made $20 a week, and she said, No, it was fine. You can do a lot with $20 in those days. With that sort of attitude, thats how I grew up, and how my mother, Gloria, got it. I grew up believing I could do anything—that I could accomplish anything with those strong women in my house.”
Beyoncé used her podium time to thank her fellow nominees in the entertainer of the year category, which included Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman and director Ryan Coogler, NBA superstar LeBron James, and actress Regina King, who won an Oscar earlier this year for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk.
“Regina King, I love you so mucRead More – Source