During a recent interview with Zainab Salbi, Latifah explained why she refuses to turn her back on Smollett, despite the reports that the actor staged his own hate crime earlier this year in Chicago.
"Until somebody can show me some proof otherwise, I'm going with him," Latifah said on Yahoo News' Through Her Eyes series. "Because the guy I've seen has always been someone who cares about people, who cares about others, whose very kind and whose always cool and sweet, that's the guy I know. So until I can see some definitive proof, which I haven't seen yet, then, you know, I gotta go with him."
On Jan. 29, Smollett told police two masked men had attacked him on Chicago streets earlier that day. The 36-year-old actor claimed the men beat him, placed a noose around his neck, and poured a chemical substance on him before shouting, "This is MAGA country"—a reference to President Donald Trump's controversial "Make America Great Again" slogan. Officers initially investigated the incident as a possible hate crime, but upon further digging, the Chicago Police concluded Smollett had orchestrated his alleged attack with the help of Abel and Ola Osundairo.
"[...] Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago's reputation through the mud in the process," Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson said during a press conference last month. "And why? The stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary. So he concocted a story about being attacked."
"The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election," his legal team wrote in a statement. "Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing."
Smollett is now out on $100,000 bond, and is due back in court March 14.
In wake of the scandal, many celebrities have condemned the actor for carrying out the alleged hoax. Empire executives—Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo, and Dennis Hammer—also announced that Smollett's role will be cut from the final two episodes of the current season; however, Entertainment Tonight has reported that Smollett's character, Jamal Lyon, will appear in the March 13 episode.
Though the outlet does not specify where it got this information, the report cites the episode synopsis: "Jamal and Kai try to figure out where they stand and a mystery begins to unravel."
It's important to note that the current season premiered this past September, and that the description for next week's episode was likely written before Smollett's arrest.