Filmmaker Lee Daniels kept it “real” at DSU Education & Humanities Theater on Oct. 17
The director of the critically acclaimed and box office hit Lee Daniel’s The Butler was the guest speaker as part of the DSU Office of Student Affairs’ Make Your Mark Speakers Series. Mr. Daniel shared with the well-attended gathering his life story from his youth to his successful career in the film industry.
For images of Mr. Daniels’ visit, click on the below photo slideshow, followed by more information on the event. At the end of the article, there is also a link to a video clip of a DSU Inside Perspective interview of the filmmaker.
To see an interview on DSU Inside Perspective, click on the following DSU YouTube link:
Mr. Daniels began by noting that he did not finish college, and told the students in attendance that they are blessed. “You should enjoy your tenure here at Delaware State University,” he said.
The Philadelphia native noted that he became involved in the film industry at a time before black directors began to have some success. “There weren’t any mentors, no Spike Lee yet, no blacks working behind the scene,” Mr. Daniels said. “Survival instincts took me from early college to Hollywood.”
While he began by directing small theatre ensembles in Baldwin Hills, Ca., he also took a job as a receptionist for a nursing agency. Then with a keen sense of opportunity, Mr. Daniels started his own nursing agency. “I stole five of their clients and took all the black girls (nurses) with me,” he said, to the humor of the gathering.
After making what he said “an enormous amount of money” he sold his business and refocused his efforts on the film industry. He went to work as a casting director and an actors’ agent, contributing to the casting of films such as Prince’s Purple Rain and Under the Cherry Moon.
Lee Daniels gave a frank account of his life and career at a well-attended gathering in the E&H Theater on campus.
“I learned from the ground up what it was like to be on the (filming) set,” Mr. Daniels said. “That was my school.”
He was later hired by Warner Brothers to be its head of minority talent, a post that brought him in contact with a lot of talented black actors. He was later inspired by the Broadway show “Dreamgirls,” which inspired him to launch his own casting agency. However, he said, there was still not an abundance of significant acting jobs for African American performers.
“Then I got the idea for (the 2001 film) Monster’s Ball and produced it,” Mr. Daniels said. He added that there were many who predicted that the film would not do well.
“I am very proud of the fact that Halle Berry was the first black woman to win the Academy Award (for Best Actress),” he said.
He eluded to his past drug problem, he noted that night Ms. Berry received the Award, he could not attend the celebration party afterward because he was at home “with his crack pipe.”
He said his responsibility to raise his adopted children prompted him to give up drugs for good soon thereafter. “I thought I was saving them, and they ended up saving me,” said the filmmaker, who noted that he has been drug-free from illegal substances for 17 years.
Mr. Daniel detail there rest of his filmography journey: The Woodsman, a 2004 film he produced about a pedophile trying to assimilate back into society after serving a jail sentence; Shadowboxer (2005), his first directorial effort; Tennessee (2008), which he produced starring singer Mariah Carey; Precious (2009), which he directed and produced and resulted in a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Mo’Nique; The Paperboy (2012); as well as The Butler.
“When Halle Berry won the Oscar, I thought it doesn’t get any better than this,” Mr. Daniels said. “But God said, ‘no Negro, it does’ .”
As he shared his life story, he quite frankly talked about his gay sexual orientation and the challenges it has caused for him. At the end of his presentation, he took numerous questions from the audience and gave some advice to those who aspire to make it in the film industry, noting toughness is required.
“It is a cutthroat business,” Mr. Daniels said.
Watch a video interview with Mr. Daniels on a segment of DSU Inside Perspective.