Does Jussie Smollett Have A Path To Redemption?

MIAMI BEACH, FL - JANUARY 21:  Jussie Smollett is seen at NATPE Miami 2019 - Tyler Perry Keynote "Living the Dream: A Career in Content" at the Fontainebleau Hotel on January 21, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)

Does Jussie Smollett Have A Path To Redemption?

Public relations expert Jennifer Farmer examines his chances of earning back his reputation.

Published February 21st

Just weeks after news of Jussie Smollett’s attack surfaced, the Empire actor is being charged with staging his own hate crime. After alleging two men attacked him last month – during which the reported culprits put a rope around his neck and poured an unknown chemical substance on him – Smollett now faces a felony charge for filing a false police report.

According to Deadline, Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi has confirmed Smollett was booked and is now in custody, waiting on a bail hearing for Thursday afternoon (Feb. 21).

Smollett’s hospitalization at the hands of what was being characterized as a hate crime last month, was initially met with an onslaught of grief and anger from members of the entertainment industry and LGBTQ community.

Today, he’s being indicted on charges of disorderly conduct for apparently filing a false police report about a racist, homophobic attack that sprawled headlines just weeks ago. The pending charge, according the Washington Post, is a Class 4 felony with a sentence that can range from one to three years in prison, to probation.

Through his legal team, Smollett continues to reject any claims that say he orchestrated not one, but two hate crimes (one involving the alleged attack, and another concerning a threatening letter):

"Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked," their statement reads. "Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."

Many of us might be left disheartened, angered or just plain scratching our heads. Critics and admirers alike have taken to social media to express their frustrations, while some bring to question the integrity of the Chicago Police Department.

“At least we know the Chicago police department can solve a crime when they want to,” wrote VIBE editor, Shenequa Golding, on social media, adding that she does not “regret believing or defending Jussie Smollett,” but that she’s “hurt and deeply disappointed he lied.”

Golding’s sentiments of being let down are presumably shared by all of Smollett’s fans, but what seems to resonate on a deeper level here is the aggressive action with which Chicago PD operated to swiftly find legal resolve.

Given this case’s proximity to last month’s Lifetime premiere of Surviving R. Kelly, which exposes the slew of young ladies the R&B icon abducted and sexually assaulted, the question begs: where was Chicago PD’s fixed resolution to fight crime when it concerned a bunch of black female victims? Nevermind the history of white women who’ve falsified cases against black men, only to fall through the cracks of a fundamentally corrupt system.

As Smollett’s case continues to develop, and an LGBTQ community of black and brown men and women are left feeling vulnerable, the overarching matter might very well be whether or not the actor’s career can survive this debacle, and if at all, how?

“In addition to telling the truth, to offering an explanation, he also needs to show contrition,” Jennifer Farmer, a social activist and Public Relations advisor of 17 years, says to BET over the phone. “He needs to acknowledge that what he did was wrong, be deeply repentant, and then he needs to lay out the steps for what he’s going to do to move forward.”

Part of that, she explains, includes being held accountable for whatever consequences he has to face, not only with the legal system, but also with his fans and the entertainment industry.

“Lying about being attacked based on one’s race and sexual orientation is indefensible. If the allegations are true, Jussie should offer an unequivocal apology. His apology should be specific, and it should be clear. He should apologize for wasting precious legal resources. He should apologize for putting his family and castmates in a position of having to defend him only to find out the whole situation was a hoax. He should apologize to the two men he accused of attacking him. Most importantly, he should apologize to black queer women, the LGBTQ community writ large, and people who have been victims of hate crimes. He should also apologize to himself for undoubtedly letting himself down,” Farmer says to BET, doubling down on the severity of the situation.

As Jussie’s legal team will likely want to monitor what Smollett says, Farmer anticipates legal guidance and public relations guidance will be at odds: “While lawyers are concerned with mitigating the criminal damages, as a public relations expert, my focus would be preserving his public-facing persona.”

While Farmer has reason to believe the American people are far more forgiving than we like to admit, apologizing is just the beginning of Smollett’s amends. Explaining the psychology behind why he did what he is being accused of doing is equally imperative.

“People are inherently curious, and curiosity has an insatiable appetite. In the absence of knowing, people will make up their own conclusions and create a version of reality that suits their needs. Those conclusions, and that reality, will most certainly be unhelpful,” she continues, spelling out the plausible ramifications of allowing theories to fester in the minds of the general public.

“More importantly, placing curiosity to the side, Jussie owes his family, friends, and hate crime victims an explanation. The explanation should not be offered with the hope that it will be well-received. People will rightly question anything Jussie says for the foreseeable future. However, an explanation allows him to begin the process of accountability and that is essential for the eventual resuscitation of his career.”

After walking through the necessary steps of making deep amends with his fans, LGBTQ community, family and legal team, Farmer thinks Smollett’s next move should be to take a temporary break from the public eye, before launching his next big thing.

“The timing for this is key. If he tries to proceed too quickly, he will alienate fans and supporters. If he waits too long, it may be impossible to recover. He should work on his next big thing and then strategically decide the best timing to launch it.”
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For more information, or to arrange an interview, please email Jennifer R. Farmer at jenniferr@spotlightpr.org 

Written by Marjua Estevez

(Photo: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)

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