Daniels at the 2015 Premiere of Empire
Lee Auther Daniels
December 24, 1959
|Occupation||Film, television writer, director, producer|
|Relatives||Honey Davenport (cousin)|
Lee Daniels (born December 24, 1959) is an American film and television writer, director, and producer. After a career as both a casting director and talent manager, Daniels moved into producing with 2001’s Academy Award winning Monster's Ball. Daniels became the first African American film producer to solely produce an Oscar-winning film, when Halle Berry picked up the Best Actress statue, making her the first, and only, African American Best Actress Winner. Daniels directed Precious in 2009, which received six Oscar nominations, including Best Director; it won two awards.
After his directorial debut Shadowboxer premiered at The Toronto Film Festival, Daniels’ directed 2009’s Precious. The Oscar-winning film was adapted from the New York Times-bestselling novel Push by Sapphire, and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including two nominations for Daniels ("Achievement in Directing" and "Best Motion Picture of the Year”).
In 2013 he released the critically acclaimed Lee Daniels' The Butler, a drama that tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), an African American butler who served at the White House during seven presidential administrations. The film, released in August 2013, held the number one box office spot for three consecutive weeks and grossed over $175 million worldwide.
In 2015, Daniels co-created and directed Fox’s Empire, starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Hensen. Daniels served as executive producer for all 6 seasons. The show was Emmy-nominated and won a Golden Globe in 2016.
In 2016, Daniels co-created and directed Star, starring Queen Latifiah and Benjamin Bratt. He served as executive producer for all three seasons. Star was also produced by Daniels’ TV production company - Lee Daniels Entertainment.
Daniels was born on December 24, 1959 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the eldest son of Clara Watson and William L. Daniels. Daniels has four siblings - Cheryl, Lydia (aka Girlie), Maynard and Leah. His younger sister, Leah Daniels-Butler, is a television and film casting director credited with casting many of his projects. As a teenager, Daniels earned a scholarship to Philadelphia’s prestigious private school - Radnor High School. In 1975, when Daniels’ was 15 years-old, his family faced a devastating loss, when their father, who was a police officer, was killed in the line of duty. He graduated from Radnor High School in 1978, and then Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.
After graduating from Radnor in 1978, Daniels attended Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. But he soon realized the liberal arts school wasn’t for him, and he moved to Hollywood, eventually working as a receptionist in a nursing agency. Before long, Daniel’s started his own nursing agency - specializing in HIV/AIDS treatment. Eventually, he sold his nursing agency and segued into casting. He began his career in entertainment as a casting director and manager after a chance meeting with a Hollywood producer, working on such projects as Under the Cherry Moon and Purple Rain. He continued managing talent. The documentary My Big Break features Daniels early in his career when he was managing actor Wes Bentley, who starred as Ricky Fitts in American Beauty. In the documentary, Daniels comments on Bentley's reluctance to capitalize on his newfound celebrity status.
Monster's Ball, the debut production of Lee Daniels Entertainment, was a critical and box office success. Halle Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress; the film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Daniels said he did not attend the Oscars when the film won, citing his challenges with addiction and his struggle over whether he "deserved" to attend, according to an emotional interview on MSNBC in 2019.
His 2004 production The Woodsman, starring Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, and Mos Def, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It went on to garner three nominations at the 2005 Independent Spirit Awards, the CICAE Arthouse Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Jury Prize at the Deauville International Film Festival, and a "Special Mention for Excellence in Filmmaking" award from the National Board of Review. Former president Bill Clinton persuaded Daniels to produce public service announcements to encourage young people of color to vote. The campaign was launched in March 2004 and featured Grammy winners LL Cool J and Alicia Keys.
His first directorial effort, 2006's Shadowboxer, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. It starred Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff, Vanessa Ferlito, Mo'Nique, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Macy Gray. It was nominated for Best New Director at the San Sebastian Film Festival.
His 2008 production Tennessee was written by Russell Schaumberg and directed by Aaron Woodley (Rhinoceros Eyes); the film is about two brothers, played by Adam Rothenberg and Ethan Peck, who travel from New Mexico to Tennessee to search for their estranged father. Along the way they meet Krystal (Mariah Carey), an aspiring singer who flees her controlling husband (Lance Reddick) to join them on their journey.
His 2009 film Precious told the story of an obese, illiterate, 16-year-old girl (Gabourey Sidibe) who lives in a Section 8 tenement in Harlem. She has been impregnated twice by her father, Carl, and suffers long-term physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from her unemployed mother, Mary (Mo'Nique). Carey appeared as a social worker. The film screened at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and went on to garner widespread acclaim. Mo'Nique won the Academy award for best supporting actress, Daniels was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director and the film received a Best Picture nomination. It was a financial success grossing $63 million worldwide against a budget of $10 million.
Daniels directed The Paperboy (2012), based on the 1995 novel by Pete Dexter who penned the original script which was further developed by Daniels; it starred Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, and Nicole Kidman. The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
He directed the historical fiction drama film The Butler (2013), starring Forest Whitaker, John Cusack, Jane Fonda, Mariah Carey, Terrence Howard, Alan Rickman, and Oprah Winfrey. The Butler received positive reviews from critics and grossed over a $100 million in the United States against a budget of $30 million.
Empire, a television series created by Daniels, premiered on January 7, 2015. Daniels directed the first episode and co-wrote it with The Butler screenwriter Danny Strong. The series stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, and is about a family's music empire.
In June 2016, the Human Rights Campaign released a video in tribute to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting; in the video, Daniels and others told the stories of the people killed there.
On February 8, 2018, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research paid tribute to Daniels at their 20th annual amfAR Gala New York at Cipriani Wall Street. Award-winning actress, singer, and songwriter Queen Latifah presented him the amfAR Award of Courage, describing his past work with HIV/AIDS patients. She also shared that as a gifted creative force, he creates “unfailingly human” characters, who are “often striving to rise above difficult circumstances.” In his acceptance speech, he spoke about a generation lost to AIDS and said that the crisis had taken at least 40 of his personal friends. In the fight against AIDS, he said it is important to “step up when it matters.”
On September 16, 2015, Daniels was asked about actor Terrence Howard saying that his first wife "was talking to me real strong, and I lost my mind and slapped her in front of the kids" and that he got physical with his second wife too in a September 2015 Rolling Stone interview. Daniels excused the domestic violence and called Howard "that poor boy." Then he said that Howard hasn’t done anything that Sean Penn hasn’t done. A week later, Daniels was sued by Penn in a $10 million defamation lawsuit. The lawsuit states that "Daniels falsely equates Penn with Howard...Penn (unlike Howard) has never been arrested, much less convicted, for domestic violence, as his ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest." Penn dropped the lawsuit in May 2016 after Daniels retracted his statement and apologized.
Hopkins and Daniels later separated.
Jussie and I both share the same feeling that, yes, even though we are gay, we’re sexual human beings...And we do occasionally want to sleep with a woman. [Laughs] Maybe once every 10 or 15 years, but it happens! And there are a lot of people who don’t want to hear about that. It’s such a complicated conversation. It's not necessarily the body one is attracted to. You can be sexually attracted to the spirit, the energy, the life force in another person. We're showing life on Empire, and I won't apologize for it.
|1986||A Little Off Mark|
|Agnes und seine Brüder|
|2013||Lee Daniels' The Butler|
|2021||The United States Vs. Billie Holiday|
|TBA||Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?|
|2015–2019||Empire||Co-creator, executive producer, director, writer|
|2016–2019||Star||Co-creator, executive producer, director, writer|
|2009||My Big Break|
|2010||The Black List: Volume 3|
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