Today, for example, Lee Daniels was asked today about a remark he made earlier this month when talking about casting a white actress as one of the leads of his new Fox series Star. (Set in Atlanta, Star revolves around three young female singers desperate for stardom, as they navigate the cutthroat music business.)
Daniels had been quoted as saying he wanted to examine race through that lens, saying the country is in a dangerous state now and that he wanted white people to feel good about being white.
“I’m a 57-year-old black man that came to Hollywood with $7 in his pocket and dared to dream big,” he began today when asked if he wanted to clarify.
“Why am I putting a white girl in the middle of this black environment, with a sister who is half black, with another singer who is an entitled very rich black girl, with a transgender that is beautiful? Why am I doing that now? We’re in a difficult time in America right now,” he said.
“I foresaw where we would be right now, and when I said ‘heal the nation’ it was about personal healing, but it was about bringing these girls together and watching these girls come together as a family…and aspire to their dreams.
“Racism is very, very real and you’re talking to somebody that’s experienced it firsthand. I’m not going to let racism define me. That’s all I can say.”
“Boom!” enthused cast member Queen Latifah.
Minutes later, Daniels added that the show also is about “class-ism.” “We talked about race, it’s a volatile subject in this country. But it’s also about class-ism too.” In the series, Naomi Campbell plays Rose Spencer, a very wealthy Londoner who is the mother of one of the members of the girl group and who, as Campbell described today at TCA, is alcoholic, has a husband who is “all over the place, philandering,” and who is desperate to get her family back together.
“They’re very privileged African Americans – and it ain’t drug money,” Daniels noted. “So it’s exciting to tell that side of the story.“
Latifah was asked to expound on the “singular generational nature of girl groups and their relevance today.”
“No,” Latifah responded.
“Yeah, the party’s on!” Daniels beamed, telling TV critics: “Next question!”
Only, Latifah thought better of it and answered, with the caveat, “I’m not an expert on girl groups.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of people who have a lot of money, and who make things happen, are followers and not really leaders. And so they often want, if someone else has it, they want the next ‘that’ and the next ‘that,’ when there are a lot of original groups that could be different and successful and sustainable,” she said.
“But because you’re so busy chasing Destiny’s Child, which you’re never going to get, you get the lower versions of that and it seems a little cornier, cheaper. Sot it all kinds of blows up at some point and nobody wants it and nobody’s paying attention to it.”
Latifah wound up her thoughts on the subject saying she hopes Star “ignites girl groups again.”
Daniels, meanwhile, agreed with one critic’s suggestion that the success of Empire enabled him to mount this new series, but bristled at the critic’s description of the new series as “Lee Daniels Unchained,” and kept referring to that remark as he took other questions. Finally, Daniels agreed, “to have the balls to tell this type of story…It gave me the balls. I don’t think I would have had the nerve to tell this story.”
Fox being one of the broadcast networks that have embraced live musical productions in recent season, Daniels was asked if he would consider doing a live episode of Star. “You don’t want me live, baby!” he grinned.
“And they wouldn’t” either, he added.