Jussie Smollett spoke out in his first interview on Thursday morning about any suspicion related to the reported hate crime he faced last month in Chicago that has sparked an outpouring of both support and criticism of the actor.
In an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America, the star of Empire said he feels that if the perpetrators weren’t white, he would be believed.
"I have to acknowledge the lies and the hate. And it feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more," Smollett told GMA. "And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”
Smollett used his time on the morning show to speak on much of the reporting that has emerged since news broke of his attack and to share that he believes the two men in blurry photos released by police are the perpetrators.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them,” Smollett said. The actor also used the interview to speak on recent reporting related to his phone records and misreporting surrounding the attack.
Earlier this week, the actor’s phone records that detail his calls during the night of the attack were rejected by local police as their investigation continues.
"We are very appreciative of the victim's cooperation; however, the records provided do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation as they were limited and heavily redacted,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told The Advocate.
Smollett stated in interviews with local police immediately after the attack that he was speaking on the phone with his manager, who could corroborate many aspects of the incident. These records could help investigators looking to piece together the timeline of the January attack.
The actor maintained his defense on GMA that he hasn’t handed over the phone due to it holding personal information of others who are unrelated to this incident.
"They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours. I'm sorry, but — I'm not gonna do that," the actor said. "Because I have private pictures and videos and numbers: my partner's number, my family's number, my castmate's number, my friends' numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos."
Smollett said that earlier reports from other outlets that stated the actor told police that his assailants were wearing MAGA hats is inaccurate.
"For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing," Smollett said, referring to the hats. "I didn't need to add anything like that. They called me a f----, they called me a n----. There's no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae."
The actor did restate that the attackers used the president’s slogan while attacking him.
"This is MAGA country," the men then yelled, according to interviews conducted by the Chicago police with the actor after the attack, which have been confirmed by The Advocate. Smollett’s manager has told police he heard this language among racial and homophobic slurs.
A video of Smollett with a rope around his neck returning to his building after the reported incident has been recovered by the police but has yet to be released. Local police say they will not release this footage until the investigation is finished.
The FBI’s separate investigation into hate mail addressed to Smollett with an image of a man being shot is also still ongoing. The two agencies will not comment on whether these incidents are related.
In the wake of the interview, LGBTQ groups have already begun to reaffirm their support of the actor, who they say is a victim of a hate crime and say he is now being revictimized by speculation in the wake of the attacks.
“Jussie Smollett was victimized first in a hate-motivated and violent attack in Chicago and has since been doubly victimized as the subject of speculation by the media industry and broader culture,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement to The Advocate. “Jussie’s experience is sadly not unique in today’s America and we all must lock arms to change that.”
Last year was the deadliest year on record for LGBTQ people of color, according to the National Anti-Violence Project. And this fact is one that has become central to Smollett as he continues to navigate the incident within the public eye, which is why he agreed to an interview with the morning show.
"I think people need to hear the truth," he said. “'Cause everybody has their own idea. Some are healing and some are hurtful, but I just want young people, young members of the LGBTQ community — young black children — to know how strong that they are."
Below is a clip from this morning’s interview: