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Lee Daniels 'Afraid' To Answer Question About Gay/Black Acceptance In Hollywood: 'I Want To Work'

by Tambay A. Obenson
September 23, 2013 5:32 PM
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Lee Daniels

One of the things I love about Lee Daniels is his honesty - specifically in interviews. I haven't yet had the opportunity to converse with Mr Daniels - although Sergio has - but I can say that, as an interviewer, there's nothing more pleasing than a interviewee who isn't afraid to be unfiltered. It makes my job so much easier, and the entire experience much more interesting, which in turn translates to a pleasurable read (or listen) for you folks!

Sergio already interviewed Lee Daniels about The Butler HERE. Now here's another interview Daniels gave to KCRW that I thought was worth sharing. 

Daniels talks in detail about the making of the film, and specifically addresses being an *out* gay black filmmaker in Hollywood. One of the more distressing, although *understandable* things that Daniels shares during the conversation comes towards the end of it, when he's asked to comment specifically on Hollywood's acceptance of black artists, versus gay artists, versus black gay artists, Daniels replies, stating that he's actually "afraid" to answer the question, and that he'll have to remain silent on it, because, "I want to work."

I mention this because, in my experience, given the number of interviews I've done over the years, this is very much the position that many (and not just artists of color) take - understandably so. They want to work in an industry in which very few companies retain a monopoly. Criticize it and its practices, no matter what you think of them, and you might find yourself kicked out and blacklisted. So, instead, many take on a vow of silence, and maybe vent their frustrations in private instead.

This may not be acceptable for some of us on the outside looking in, who would prefer that they be completely fearless and speak truth to power, regardless of what the consequences might be. But this is the reality of the business for many, whether you think it's "right" or "fair."

Daniels' interview begins around the 6:50 mark:

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  • James Nelson | October 2, 2013 4:16 PMReply

    While I'm of the mind that p.o.c. working within the industry should out the industry for it's blatant biases when it comes to p.o.c. in front of and behind the camera, and I hope that if some day I find myself in the position to be a person of interest I won't balk when the issue arises, one can't really fault Daniels on his position.

    Just look at the problems Spike Lee has raising money for his projects, which generally turn a profit, and are well made. We've been waiting for a sequel to Inside Man for how long now? You can point to dozens of filmmakers who seemingly have no problem getting films backed even when they churn out flop after flop.

  • Charlie | September 24, 2013 10:47 AMReply

    What? Why is it a competition? Gay, black, or gay and black, everyone deserves a voice and representation. Is that really such a controversial position?

  • James | October 2, 2013 4:19 PM

    Obviously there is a competition in the realm of Hollywood. Considering they already don't consider "black" films to be profitable, or worth putting money into, they also have a quota seemingly of how many "black" films they produce.

    This is one of the reasons a lot of people have a problem with Tyler Perry. Every Perry films goes toward that quota meaning another black filmmaker, or screenplay didn't get a shot they might have given us something a bit different.

  • CareyCarey | September 24, 2013 7:42 AMReply

    Lee Daniels philosophy is one shared by most humans. There's an innate fear that when one speaks for or against most status quo, he or she will faces some type of conseqences. Now I don't necessarily agree with Campell's take, "In these United States, you must go along, to get along. Everyone assimilates to some degree, to succeed" because one does not have to go along to "succeed". However, there's a price to pay when one raises issues that may be perceived as anti-status quo. That price, that kick-back or fear of being ostracized is not limited to the entertainment business, it even happens here at S&A. In it's comment section, it has been noted that when one disagrees with the majority, he or she may face a wrath of unkind feedback... nuff said.

    In respect to gay and racial issues, therein lies double, double, toil and trouble. In other words it's a double-edged sword. For instance, when one takes a stand against homosexuality or is pro-heterosexual , even though they may mean gays no harm, it's been noted that they are branded with the negative connotation "homophobic". Consequently many choose to stay mum and stay controversy free.

    On the racial front, how many times have we seen pro-black individuals be characterized as racists or deemed to have a vengeance against anyone who's of a different color? MLK is a perfect example of that slippery slope of circumstance. In fact, he spoke on why most people take the frequently traveled low road of less resistance.

    "Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different."

    Lee Daniels is no different than most men. There's an innate fear of rejection in all of us.

  • Art Clokey | September 24, 2013 2:07 AMReply

    Mr. Daniels' philosophy is one shared by almost all American black directors making a living in Hollywood today. No one really wants to step on any white toes (including spike, for all his contrived positivity.) Even newjack Ryan Coogler's amazing vision will be watered down in his next film, "Creed" (aka "Rocky 7".) They all "want to work." And I suppose there's nothing wrong with that.

    But this is also why Steve McQueen's vision and philosophy is so unusually different. He steps on white toes, but somehow in the end he makes it all work out.

  • sthn | September 24, 2013 1:39 PM

    or white screenwriters writing our stories...

  • donnadara | September 24, 2013 1:12 PM

    You must not have seen John Singleton's article about his discomfort with white directors being hired to make movies about black topics. Also I don't know what you mean about "contrived positivity". Spike Lee has been speaking truth to power for years and has been punished for it.

  • Accidental Visitor | September 24, 2013 12:00 AMReply

    I interpret his remarks as being that he is weary about revealing that gay artists are likely widely more accepted than black artists.

  • James | October 2, 2013 4:21 PM

    It's rather hard to deny that.

  • Lex Kennedy | September 23, 2013 7:11 PMReply

    And to think the Outfest Fusion film festival gave him a lifetime achievement award, but he refuses to speak about acceptance and visibility for LGBTQ people of color in Hollywood. The industry needs more fearless filmmakers and artist.

  • Oh Please | September 23, 2013 11:26 PM

    Says the outsider with nothing to lose. Sit down!

  • campbell | September 23, 2013 6:35 PMReply

    In these United States, you must go along, to get along.
    Everyone assimilates to some degree, to succeed.

  • vglongvao | September 23, 2013 5:48 PMReply

    I can understand Lee Daniels, and him saying he's afraid to say anything kind of says more about the issue than anything else he could've mentioned. But yeah, Hollywood is upheld by a status quo of straight white male business mentality. It's the same with any large organization. The whole appearance reflects the rigidity of those who run it. It's a system that's probably too complicated to even start to destroy because it's too far gone.

  • FactChecker | September 23, 2013 9:23 PM

    @VGLONGVAO I heard this interview and what he didn't say said it all.

    White gay males have been more warmly accepted into the club, much faster than a black gay male or lesbians. As I was watching the Emmy's last night I noticed how many openly gay white men were given a platform to perform and be themselves? (NPH, Elton, Beyond the Candelabra was feted... etc.). Think about how much clout Neil Patrick Harris, and now Sean Hayes, who has also become a very successful TV producer (Hot in Cleveland, Soul Man) are wielding these days.

    Ellen kicked the door down for all of them, but every now and then her sexual orientation gets her into trouble (JCP campaign). And if you're black and gay, well forget about it. That's the last thing white hetero males want to have to deal with. Like much of the black community they just don't know HOW to deal with it. so it's best left in the closet (pun intended).

  • 90056 | September 23, 2013 5:46 PMReply

    He needs to maintain relationships with the Weinstein Company.
    Keep mouth shut, and reap the rewards.
    Open your mouth, and end up boxed out like Spike or Singleton.
    Pick your poison.

  • James | October 2, 2013 4:25 PM

    Actually I'd have to say that Singleton is the exception to the rule, primarily because he will "play ball" so to speak. Spike Lee speaks out, but he also wants to make Black themed films on par with what white-themed films get to explore. Singleton started out making such films, but now he's found success producing typical Hollywood soup. Sure it's good soup, but . . .

  • No | September 23, 2013 5:40 PMReply

    And, yes, with four black films being released and Mr. Daniels' reluctance to speak on black issues, much less gay, we're experiencing a renaissance in black filming. We're living in a marvelous era.

  • James | October 2, 2013 4:32 PM

    What kool-aid have you been drinking? We hear this "black filmmaking renaissance" every time a film by a p.o.c. gets a bit of attention followed by decades of silence. While you can name fresh out of film school white directors (and actors) that start out at the same time and have steady work for years without break in the same length of time; oft-times after making flops and films that under performed at the box-office.

    Even that "black renaissance" that purportedly took place when Singleton and Lee first broke on the scene didn't gift us with they myriad of new Black directors and producers. I tend to think of a renaissance as encompassing a bit more than just 2 guys. Robert Townsend has huge 10 year gaps in his filmography and poor Manny Rich is still MIA.

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