Jussie Smollett Opens Up About His Jail Experience, 2019 GMA Interview and Being “Shut Off” From Online Backlash

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Jussie Smollett says that after the alleged hate crime against him in 2019 and amid the police investigation that followed, his family shielded him from public responses.

In a wide-ranging interview for SiriusXM’s Sway Calloway-hosted Sway’s Universe tied to promoting the writer-director’s new BET+ movie, B-Boy Blues, which dropped on June 9, Smollett spoke about his family protecting him, the shame he felt after the incident and how that played into regret over his decision to do an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts in February 2019.

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After he was allegedly beaten by two men on a Chicago street in January of 2019, Smollett was accused of staging the anti-gay, racist attack and lying to the police. He was convicted in December 2021 on five felony counts of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to 150 days in jail but was only served about a week after an appeals court agreed with Smollett’s lawyers that he should be released pending an appeal.

“When I say I was shut off from the world, I was shut off from the world,” Smollett said about the year after the alleged attack and the court case that followed. “My family took my phone. I did not have my phone. I was not allowed to get on social media.”

The actor said that his family protected him “from it in a really beautiful way” at the height of the controversy. But he would eventually Google himself around a year later, and it was the “worst idea ever.

“I really saw what it was and it was so painful because I was like, ‘Oh, he said that about me. Oh my God. Oh, she said that? What?'”

Smollett admitted he hadn’t even seen his February 2019 GMA interview until his trial began and was “mortified” while watching it. “I love and respect Robin Roberts,” he said. “But I did not want to do that interview. That interview wasn’t for me. That was for my character.”

“I had to watch it because they were trying to use the interview as evidence of lies,” he continued. “Every single word that I said in that interview was the truth, but there was a certain level of performative nature that came from it because I didn’t want to be there and I was so angry and so offended that I had to go on national television and explain something that happened to me. And it was so political.”

The GMA interview, he said, forced him to deal with his internalized homophobia, adding that he was “embarrassed” and “ashamed” to say what had happened to him as an openly gay, Black man. “I wanted to say all of the things that people should hear from people who have been through this, but I also didn’t want to be associated with people who would have been attacked.

“I felt like I just became a f—ot who got his ass beat, or at least I felt like that’s what people saw me as. So I was trying so hard to — like the posturing of, he hit me and then I hit his ass back,” he added.

Smollett said the way he presented himself during the interview made him “look fucking ridiculous.” He wishes, instead, that he had published social media video messages he recorded on his phone — and that his team told him not to release — that questioned why it was “so easy to believe” he staged an attack against himself.

Smollett said people who claimed he wasn’t telling the truth were “irrelevant” because they would believe what they wanted. What hurt more were those who said, “Well, even if he did do it — XYZ.”

“My entire career, but much more importantly, my entire life, along with my family, represented social justice,” he said. “It’s like finding out that someone is exactly the opposite of who they claim to be. If I had done this, I’d be a piece of shit. … If I had done something like this, it would mean that I stuck my fist in the pain of Black Americans in this country for over 400 years. … It would mean that I stuck my fist in the fears of the LGBTQ community all over the world.”

Smollett denied that he was that kind of person, stating that he “didn’t need to have some sort of rise in [my] career. I was on the up and up.

“All of these things that I was creating, there would be no reason for me to do some dumb, corny shit like that,” he continued.

Smollett has repeatedly maintained his innocence, including loudly declaring it after his sentencing hearing this past March.

As for his time in jail, Smollett denied the claim, which he says was echoed by his lawyer, that he was fasting for six and a half days for lent. Instead, he was fasting for “clarity” around “what my life was about to look like” depending on the verdict. He also said that he slept on a restraint bed, though he wasn’t restrained, and credited some of those inside for being “very kind” and showing him respect.

While Smollett says the experience offered him personal clarity and made him feel grounded, he argues that the prison system should be dismantled. “You have to be a different kind of person to really search and try to find the redemption in this,” he said. “That place is not meant for redemption. That place is not meant to make you come out better than when you went in.”

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