There’s been a lot of speculation about Empire actor Jussie Smollett’s sexuality since the show has risen in popularity, fueled in part by his reluctance to talk about his personal life in the media. Now he’s made a special appearance with Ellen to sort-of-kinda-come out.
Jussie plays a gay role on the show, and last week, in a recent Q&A, his costar Malik Yoba was asked about the success of the series and its impact, and specifically brought up the gay representation on the show. He said:
“I think that our show represents a huge opportunity to stay in the culture beyond entertainment value and there’s an intrinsic nature of you have the gay factor, right? So, obviously, Lee (Daniels, co-creator) is gay. That was an important storyline for him. I think it’s important for people to see themselves. Even within the Black community. But if you aren’t really, really taking it off of screen and making it live in the community in a significant way … like I know Jussie, he is gay, and he’s very committed to issues around the LGBT community. He and I have a very close relationship.”
Many on social media were upset that Yoba apparently outed his costar. And following the backlash, in a statement to USA Today via his publicist, Malik backpedaled, saying he was (what else?) misquoted: “I was misquoted in the article. My reference to Jussie was only about his character and storyline on Empire.”
During his guest appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Smollett finally came out publically as a gay man. The 31-year-old actor chose not to speak about his personal life during the main interview for the daytime talk show, but asked Ellen DeGeneres to film a special sit-down chat with him backstage shortly afterwards.
Smollett then spoke openly about his sexuality during the interview, saying, “It was really important to me to make sure that it got across that there is no closet. There’s never been a closet that I’ve been in. I don’t own a closet, I got a dresser, but I don’t have a closet…I have a home and that is my responsibility to protect that home.”
He continued, “So that’s why I choose not to talk about my personal life. But there is without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in, and I just wanted to make that clear. But it was most important for me to make that clear to you on your show at this time in the world. And that’s where I’m at.”
Smollett further explained, “Let’s not read into it the wrong way when I say that I don’t talk about my personal life. I’m saying that, but there is no way to hide or deny who God made me, you know? My mama knows, my mama likes me a lot. And yes, I take her to The Sound of Music sing-along every single year. So, any questions? But you know, honestly, we’re humans and we love and we do all that good stuff. So I’m honored for this opportunity and I’m honored to be here with you.”