Debbie Allen "Totally Shocked" by Jussie Smollett Allegations

Chandra Wilson Debbie Allen Women Image Awards - Getty - H 2019
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Allen accepted the Woman of the Year award at the Women's Image Awards in Beverly Hills. The performer and activist commented on the allegations against the 'Empire' star, whom she directed in 2015.

Grey’s Anatomy star and one-time Empire director Debbie Allen says she is “totally shocked” by the arrest of Jussie Smollett, who was charged with falsifying a police report in Chicago on Wednesday.

“I’m just waiting to hear what’s going to happen,” Allen told The Hollywood Reporter. Allen, the multihyphenate who rose to prominence in the 1980 movie and subsequent TV series Fame, accepted the 2018 Woman of the Year Award at the Women’s Image Awards on Friday night at the Montage Beverly Hills.

“It’s hard for me to say how I feel about any of it, other than that I know Jussie. So I’m just really disturbed that something has happened to him, that he would do this if he has in fact done this,” said Allen, who was awarded for her work in activism and philanthropy as well as her performing, directing and producing work.

“I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to feel,” Allen said of Smollett, who will not appear in the final two episodes of Empire’s fifth season, according to a statement from the show’s executive producers. Allen directed one episode in the show’s first season.

The mood was generally cheerful, though, as Allen accepted a lifetime achievement award from fellow Grey’s castmember Chandra Wilson. “The Woman of the Year honor is given to an artist who uses her enormous gifts, time and talent to promote equality and to develop and support young artists,” Wilson said during the ceremony, highlighting Allen’s current role as directing executive producer of Grey’s and founder of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, a nonprofit dance studio in Los Angeles.

“She is everything you hope she would be when you meet her, and she makes you feel like you have so much to give to the world and she won’t stop harassing you until you give it,” Wilson said of Allen.

The respect for Allen was infectious, as other stars sung her praises: “I was obsessed with Fame growing up...and so I was obsessed with her work as an actor first and then to find out how much she’s respected and esteemed as a teacher, producer, director, all those things just blew me away,” said Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn.

The Women’s Image Awards, now in their 20th year, are produced by the Women’s Image Network, a charity founded in 1993 by director Phyllis Stuart to advance gender parity at all levels of Hollywood. Previous Woman of the Year honorees include Carrie Fisher, Lauren Bacall and Lily Tomlin.