As Jussie Smollett awaits his fate in a Chicago court, accused of staging a fake hate crime in January 2019, his once-promising career also hangs in the balance.

The 39-year-old actor’s prospects have drastically diminished since his story about being attacked by two men who used racial and homophobic slurs began to unravel. UTA distanced itself and quietly stopped working with him in the immediate aftermath (he is no longer a client).

Likewise, he hasn’t booked an acting gig in two years. And his most loyal backer, former Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen, who once made the highly unorthodox move of lobbying the Cook County State’s Attorney to talk to the Smollett family days before previous charges against the Empire star were dropped, has faced a comeuppance of her own. In August, she was ousted from her powerful Hollywood perch in the wake of the outcry over the gender equity group’s involvement in former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s response to sexual harassment claims.

(CNN anchor Don Lemon also got hit by the shrapnel of the Smollett fallout when the actor testified before the court that he first knew that police doubted the MAGA-inspired attack was legitimate after he received a text message from Lemon, prompting him to not to hand his phone records over to cops.)

Still, Smollett pulled off something that few in Hollywood can do. In 2020, he landed financing to make his directorial debut on the drama B-Boy Blues. Based on a novel by James Earl Hardy, the 1993-set film chronicles a love story between two Black men from different worlds. Cleveland radio and TV station owner Tom Wilson, who has known Smollett for 15 years and has worked with him on various music ventures, co-financed the film, which shot over 12 days in New York in fall 2020 and premiered in Harlem on Nov. 19.

Wilson says he put up his share of the budget — less than $200,000 — “because I believe in Jussie.” The film currently has no distribution, but Wilson, who is in Chicago for Smollett’s trial, notes, “I’m not going to say who they are, but people are interested in buying this product.” Several buyers say they are unfamiliar with the title and haven’t been approached.

Meanwhile, Smollett and Wilson, who created the company A Supermassive Movie in September 2020, have already shot their follow-up project to B-Boy Blues in New York and Los Angeles. It’s an untitled series pilot that stars and is directed by Smollett. Regardless of the outcome of the trial in which the former child actor faces six counts of disorderly conduct for filing false police reports — with a sentence of up to three years if convicted — the pair plan to shop the small-screen project at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.

“We just want the right verdict,” says Wilson, “so we can get on with making projects that allow minorities, Blacks and gays the opportunity to show their artistry.”

A version of this story appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *