Jussie Smollett acknowledged his legal difficulties Thursday at a Harlem premiere screening for his gay romantic drama “B-Boy Blues,” expressing gratitude for finishing his feature directorial debut despite his personal issues.
“Sometimes we all go through things, you know, but what I know for sure is I am so… if I don’t know nothin’, I know how blessed I am,” Smollett said in his first major public appearance since receiving a five-month prison sentence in March for lying to Chicago cops about a racist and homophobic 2019 attack. “I know how grateful I must be. It is not up for debate. I must be grateful. To the universe, to God, to our ancestors, whoever you want to believe it is.”
The former “Empire” acknowledged the challenges of making the film — based on the bestselling 1994 novel of the same name from author James Earl Hardy, who co-wrote the script along with Smollett. In addition to his very public legal drama, he began shooting as COVID-19 began in the U.S.
“We did [the movie] in 12 days in the height of the pandemic, among other crazy s— happening with me,” Smollett noted in a Q&A following a screening of the film, which will make its streaming platform debut June 9 on BET+.
Days after his March sentencing, Smollett was ordered to be released from jail pending the appeal of his conviction last December on charges that he staged a hate-crime attack against himself in 2019. Judge James B. Linn stated that the evidence against Smollett was “overwhelming” and that the jury’s verdict in his case was “correct.”
On Thursday, legal issues were far from center stage. Smollett, wearing an eye-catching blue suit, seemed thrilled to be turning the page on the troubles he’s faced over the last few years by releasing what he called “a beautiful Black French film” that he likened to past movie romances like “Jason’s Lyric,” “Love Jones” and “Pretty Woman.”
“This film was made by same-gender-loving Black men and Black women,” he said. “And it was brought with love.” The story centers on an unlikely romance that develops between successful thirtysomething journalist Mitchell Crawford (Timothy Richardson) and 24-year-old bike messenger Raheim Rivers (Thomas Mackey). Besides age differences, the two spar on matters of race, class, culture, sexual identity and more, but the couple’s unbridled passion can’t be denied.
Grammy-winning singer/actor Ledisi (Selma), NAACP Image Award nominee Brandee Evans (P-Valley), dancer Michael Jackson Jr., Landon G. Woodson, Heather B (The Real World), Marquise Vilson (Tom Swift), Jabari Redd (Goals) and Broderick Hunter (Insecure) round out the cast.
After completing the film, Smollett teamed up with legendary producer Mona Scott-Young (“Love & Hip Hop”), who helped secure the streaming deal with BET+. “Everybody who knows me knows that I like to kick down doors,” Scott-Young said at Thursday’s Harlem premiere. “I like to shake the table, shine a spotlight where there is none. So for me this is an amazing opportunity to normalize these relationships [and] share [this movie] with the world and to hopefully see more and more films of this kind find [their] way to mainstream media.”
“B-Boy Blues” won the Narrative Feature Fan Favorite Award at the 2021 American Black Film Festival (ABFF), where it debuted, and also the Best Feature Audience Award at Outshine.