‘Black-ish’ Star Anthony Anderson’s Disturbing History of Sexual-Assault Allegations
The sitcom actor—and host of the recent NAACP Image Awards—has been accused of sexual assault three times over the past two decades.
Jussie Smollett was the elephant in the room at Saturday’s NAACP Image Awards. The Empire actor, who was up for an award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, was referenced in alternating tones of scorn and solidarity. Presenter Chris Rock purposefully called out the taboo subject, announcing, “They said no Jussie Smollett jokes.” Rock continued, “You know what I could do with that light skin? That curly hair? My career would be outta here. F*cking running Hollywood. That’s no… What the hell was he thinking?”
In contrast Anthony Anderson, who was hosting the Image Awards for the sixth consecutive year, told Variety during a preview interview that he hoped that Smollett would be in attendance (ultimately, the Empire star was a no-show). “I hope he wins. I’m happy for him that the system worked for him in his favor because the system isn’t always fair, especially for people of color.” The Black-ish actor continued, “So I’m glad it worked out for him. It’s not my place or any other person’s place to judge him or whatnot, but I’m glad that he’s nominated,” Anderson concluded. “I hope he wins because I’d be interested to hear his speech.”
Anderson knows a thing or two about weathering a controversy. But while Smollett’s questionable actions promise to follow the actor for the foreseeable future, Anderson has faced three public allegations of sexual misconduct, one as recently as 2018, and persevered with his career intact. (Anderson was never convicted.) And on Saturday he was the master of ceremonies, not the subject of raised eyebrows or the butt of the joke.
The comedian and actor was first accused of sexual assault in 2004, when a woman relayed her disturbing and graphic account to Tennessee police officers.
According to a July 2004 criminal complaint that was published by The Smoking Gun, the anonymous woman, who had been transported to the hospital in the wake of the alleged attack, told officers that she was sexually assaulted by Anthony Anderson and assistant director Wayne Witherspoon (the “co-defendant”). The assault allegedly occurred in a trailer on the set of the film Hustle & Flow. The criminal complaint relays the woman’s recollection, as told to authorities, that she “was lured inside the trailer by the co-defendant and once inside the trailer the defendant and co-defendant began removing her clothing and began sexually assaulting her.” The complaint continues, “The co-defendant was exposing his penis. The defendant and co-defendant inserted their fingers inside victim’s anus and vagina. Defendant and co-defendant were restraining victim spreading her legs apart and taking photos of her vagina against her will.”
“The victim stated she was screaming and kicking to get away.”
According to the complaint, a witness told officers that they “heard the screams of the victim; came and unlocked the door.” The woman subsequently ran naked from the trailer, the complaint claims. Anderson was charged with aggravated rape and released after posting a $20,000 bond.
In response to the charge, Anderson’s spokesman denied the allegations, saying, “Anthony is a happily married family man who has never been accused of—no less involved in—anything remotely like this, and we are confident that when all the facts come out, he will be completely exonerated.”
As a 2004 E! News update on the Hustle & Flow case reported, Anderson faced two separate sexual assault allegations in rapid succession. “Anderson, 34, had maintained his innocence from the start,” the article stated. “Last month, he was defending his name again when a lawsuit accused him of assaulting a woman in 2003 on the set of his short-lived WB sitcom, All About the Andersons. At the time, a rep for Anderson said the actor ‘unequivocally denie[d] the allegations’ and that the ‘ridiculous rape charges pending against him in Memphis’ had made him a target.”
That lawsuit doesn’t appear to have been as widely covered at the time. One remaining bulletin reports that a $900,000 suit was filed against Anderson and Warner Bros. TV in September 2004, continuing, “The alleged assault occurred after taping an episode of ‘All About the Andersons’ when the plaintiff said Anderson invited her to his dressing room, where he made suggestive comments, grabbed her genital area and sexually assaulted her.” Anthony Anderson’s team did not provide a comment to The Daily Beast regarding this lawsuit, and specifically failed to clarify if the suit was eventually settled.
The Tennessee charges were dropped when a judge found that there was not sufficient probable cause to try the case. This judgment came after the accuser shared her story, testifying that, “I was continuously yelling stop,” and “Mr. Anderson was taking pictures with a camera phone. I feared for my life.” According to the E! News report, “The defense apparently was bolstered by two key bits of testimony: The woman told the court she’d had sex with Anderson twice on the day before the alleged rape; and, an ex-boyfriend of the woman said she’d told him she’d cried rape in a bid to get money out of the actor… The woman testified that she never had consensual sex with Anderson—she claimed the two encounters with the star in a hotel the day before the alleged trailer assault were crimes as well.” Judge C. Anthony Johnson reportedly declared in his dismissal that, “In 20 years, this is the most suspicious case I’ve ever heard.”
In a subsequent radio interview, Anderson described the accuser as “somebody just out to get a fast buck.” “As celebrities, we’re targets with things like that,” Anderson continued. “Everybody has a speed bump in life, and that was mine.”
The conversation then turned to hypothetical retribution for this supposed false allegation. When his interviewer began to joke about a time before they were in the public eye, when they could “slap the bitch and get away with it,” Anderson laughed, “Back then we could’ve put her in the trunk with some plastic and took her for a little ride.” The actor continued, “You can’t even call nobody a bitch no more, it’s a lawsuit,” appearing to agree with his interviewer’s nostalgia for those good old days.
Officially, Anderson was “relieved and delighted” by the judge’s decision, with his spokesman Allan Mayer explaining that, “This has been a terrible ordeal for him and his family, and he is eager to put it behind him and move on with his life and career.”
But Anderson wasn’t able to put allegations of sexual misconduct behind him. In 2018, a new accuser reported to the LAPD, filing a police report against Anderson for an alleged assault. According to The Blast, which broke the news in July 2018, “Sources familiar with the situation tell us the alleged victim walked into the Hollywood Division of LAPD earlier this year and filed a police report with the department.” The Blast report continued, “We are told the incident happened over a year ago after she met the actor while working at an event he threw. We’re told after the initial event, the woman met with Anderson a second time to discuss future business opportunities when the alleged assault occurred.”
“Sources close to the situation tell us she felt comfortable enough to come forward months after the alleged incident occurred, due in part to the #MeToo movement.”
The LAPD confirmed to The Blast that there was an open investigation against Anderson. The Black-ish actor once again issued a denial through a spokesperson, who stated, “It’s unfortunate that anyone can file a police report whether it is true or false. The authorities have not contacted Anthony or any of his representatives about this matter. Anthony unequivocally disputes the claim.”
The Los Angeles County District’s Attorney’s Office ultimately declined to prosecute the case. In September 2018, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that, “Authorities say [the accuser] declined to be interviewed after filing the initial report. Therefore, that case was declined.”
In addition to hosting the NAACP Image Awards last weekend, Anderson won for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series; and Black-ish, the show that Anderson stars in and executive produces, received its fourth consecutive award for Outstanding Comedy Series.