After two local Chicago news stations cited sources alleging that Jussie Smollett had staged an attack on him, 20th Century Fox and Fox — the studio and network behind Empire — issued a statement supporting the actor.
Chicago's ABC affiliate reported that Smollett, along with two men, might have staged the attack on Jan. 29 out of fear that he was being written off of Empire. The story gained national attention immediately because Smollett told police his attackers had thrown a bleachlike chemical on him, called him anti-gay slurs, and put a rope around his neck.
But on Thursday, Fox and 20th Century Fox refuted that report.
"The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him," the statement read.
A source close to Fox also confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the network believes the attack on Smollett "really happened," and he remains a "key player" on Empire.
An executive producer on the show also tweeted that Smollett's character was never in danger of being written off.
Chicago police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi also tweeted Thursday night that media reports about the incident being a hoax "are unconfirmed by case detectives," and that police Superintendent Eddie Johnson himself had called ABC Chicago to state on the record that "we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate."
The actor, who plays one of the most prominent black gay men on television, told officers in January that two men brutally beat him. According to police, Smollett said they tied a rope around his neck, poured an unknown chemical on him, and shouted racist and anti-gay slurs at him.
The attackers also yelled, "This is MAGA country," police said Smollett reported.
Shortly after the attack, police reviewed surveillance images in hopes of identifying the suspects. Two persons of interest have since been identified and were questioned by investigators, Guglielmi said Thursday.
The individuals are not suspects, but "were in area of concern and are being questioned," he said on Twitter. CBS Chicago reported the two men were taken in during a raid on their home, where police found a laptop, shoes, and bleach.
The men are reportedly of Nigerian descent, and, according to their attorney, Gloria Schmidt, have appeared as extras on Empire.
“They do know Jussie,” she told CBS. “They have worked with him on Empire. My preliminary investigations show that on set it’s very tight. They’re all very cordial with each other, so they’re baffled why they are people of interest."
Schmidt could not immediately be reached by BuzzFeed News Thursday night.
Days after the attack, Smollett performed at a nightclub in West Hollywood and addressed what had happened, telling the crowd "I fought the fuck back."
In an interview on Good Morning America Thursday, Smollett said the attack has left him "forever changed."
"I will never be the man that this did not happen to," he said.
Smollett also said he believes the two men in the surveillance video are his attackers.
"I understand how difficult it will be to find them, but we gotta," he said. "I still want to believe with everything that has happened, that there's something called justice."