NEW YORK (AP) — TV star and musician Jussie Smollett, who alleges he was the victim of a brutal racial and homophobic attack , is a former child star who grew up to become a champion of LGBT rights and one of the few actors to play a black gay character on primetime TV.
Smollet’s breakthrough came aboard the hip-hop drama “Empire,” playing Jamal Lyon, a talented R&B singer struggling to earn his father’s approval and find his place in his dad’s music empire. It became one of the biggest network shows to star a gay black character.
Smollett, one of the young stars of “The Mighty Ducks” film in 1992, appeared in Ridley Scott’s science fiction film “Alien: Covenant” in 2017. The third of six children, he also starred in with his siblings in the 1994 ABC sitcom “On Our Own,” along with sisters Jurnee and Jazz and brothers Jake, Jocqui and Jojo.
Other film roles include Rob Reiner’s “North,” playing Langston Hughes in “Marshall” and playing the son of Halle Berry and Danny Glover in “Queen.” He also guest-starred on “The Mindy Project.”
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Smollett came out as gay in 2015 in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, saying, “There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in.” In response to the alleged attack, the talk show host wrote on Twitter: “I’m sending him and his family so much love today.”
His work on “Empire” turbo-boosted his career, earning Emmy and Grammy nominations. His 10-track debut album, “Sum of My Music,” was released independently on his own label, Music of Sound, despite interest from major labels. He won the trophy for best supporting actor in a drama series at the 2017 NAACP Images Awards.
Smollett joined The Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Rocks campaign, joined other “Empire” cast members in an ad endorsing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and his music videos have explored social issues.
One video for the song “F.U.W.” highlights injustices, from human and LGBT rights to religious and racial prejudices. A woman wears a hijab in one scene, a boy wears a hoodie in another and four women put their fists up as they stand in front of the words, “My body, my rights.” In one scene, a wheelchair runs over a Donald Trump mask, an apparent reference to Trump’s alleged mocking of a disabled reporter.
“This song is for the oppressed. That’s why I feel like people will connect with it because it is very broad, because oppression is so broad,” he told The Associated Press in 2017. In his Twitter bio, Smollett wrote: “I am simply here to help save the world. Nothing is more important than love.”
Celebrities from Oscar-winner Viola Davis to supermodel Naomi Campbell were among those sharing support for Smollett. Lee Daniels, Steve Harvey, Janelle Monae, Jada Pinkett Smith and Kevin Hart all took to social media to send their best wishes. The cast of the Broadway show “Choir Boy” dedicated its Tuesday performance to Smollett.