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Lee Daniels Defines His Struggles and Triumphs to DSU Students

November 12th, 2013 · No Comments

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By La’Erica Conner-Sims

Students were in for a surprise when director and producer Lee Daniels was announced to speak at DSU. On Thursday, October 17, students, faculty and others interested in the event, gathered in the Education and Humanities Theater for a memorable experience. Daniels started the event by speaking about his childhood and the obstacles he had to overcome in his life.

Growing up in West Philadelphia, Daniels was not granted the same opportunities students today have available to them. He made it clear to the students in attendance that they should “take advantage of opportunity” when it comes to their education. One sad detail that was shared about Daniels’ father was his death when he was only 12 years old.

He told the audience that his father was a Philadelphia police officer who was killed in the line of duty. Daniels then took the audience on an auditory trip and went through each of the careers he had after high school. One of his first careers was working for a nursing agency after he relocated to California.

Daniels started his own health care business after realizing that he could do the job on his own. After he left the nursing agency, he did just that. Daniels started off with a handful of clients and grew to having over 500 nurses and over 1,000 patients at his company by the time he was 21-22 years old.

He credited his use of drugs to the large amount of money he had earned during this time. “When you don’t have an education or you don’t know to pay taxes, what do you do?” Daniels said. “You buy houses, you buy Porsches, you roll a lot of drugs and that’s what I did.”

Daniels also shared that he is an openly gay man and had to deal with many of his friends dying from AIDS after the disease became a problem in the United States. A casting company was the next career for Daniels after he decided to sell his nursing company. During his time with the casting company, he was able to work on the movie Purple Rain that starred singer-songwriter Prince.

Prince was noted as being very supportive of Daniels. “Prince liked me and believed in me and saw some talent in me,” Daniels said of the musician. Daniels then migrated to Warner Brothers and was hired by them to be in charge of seeking minority talent.

On a later trip to Broadway, Daniels was inspired after seeing the musical Dreamgirls. He set out to begin managing actors and actresses who fell into the minority group. Morgan Freeman, Loretta Devine and Cuba Gooding, Jr. were among the people he worked with.

His use of drugs was still ongoing at this point. Monster’s Ball was Daniels first film which he produced in 2001 which starred Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton and the late Heath Ledger. Berry ended up becoming the first African-American actress to win Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

On the night of the awards after Berry won, Daniels said he did not feel like he deserved the recognition. He spoke about how he had a crack pipe in his hands when Berry had called his hotel room to join her at a Vanity Fair after party.

Daniels also mentioned his two children who happen to be the children of his brother.

He has been raising them since they were infants due to the imprisonment of his brother. He named his two children as being the reason for why he stopped doing drugs. The event progressed with Daniels talking about his recent film The Butler which was released in August of 2013.

When speaking about the film, he said it was about a love story between the father and the son. He ended by sharing a blooper reel from The Butler which kept the audience laughing. Questions were accepted afterwards by those in attendance.

There were several questions from students and other attendants that dealt with wanting advice which Daniels answered honestly. There were also two women who came up to speak about their experiences during the civil rights movement. The audience welcomed both women with applause after hearing their stories.

The event ended with attendants asking Daniels for autographs and pictures.


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