by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Promotional material for the CNN+ documentary Chicago vs. Jussie Smollett suggests the disgraced actor’s name “has become synonymous with a hoax that underscored the larger cacophony of racism, homophobia, and political fissures in America.” A fake crime with real victims. A lie that told the truth. Blah. Blah. Blah.
Comprised of interviews with key players and some never-before-seen footage from the night of the phony hate crime in January 2019, the documentary insists on framing a celebrity’s act of deranged narcissism within the context of the broader movement for “criminal justice reform” and the public backlash against police misconduct in Chicago and the country at large. First we see footage of the 2014 police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Minutes later, we see Jussie Smollett explaining that he kept a (fake) noose around his neck until police arrived at his luxury high-rise because “I just wanted y’all to see it.” It’s all connected, you see.
The film opens with producers asking Jussie’s brothers, Jojo and Jocqui Smollett, if they think Jussie was “punished, in some ways, for what looked like defiance.” As a matter of fact, they do. Jojo suggests he was targeted “because of his activism … against injustice” and for exercising his right “to criticize power.” They are the only people who appear in the documentary to insist that Jussie is “an innocent person,” although it’s not entirely clear they actually believe it. “I think we’ve realized that the only way through this is to be unapologetic, and is to be bold, and is to not worry about playing the cards right and worrying about the consequences,” says Jocqui, as if explaining the family’s decision to keep denying the obvious.