While Lee Daniels always had the directing bug, there was a time when he took fate and the fate of those of his fellow unemployed African American actors into his own hands: He became a talent manager.
“It was pre-Spike Lee and post blaxploitation, and they (Hollywood) didn’t know what to do with us. I was directing theater and I started directing actors, trying to get them jobs and that led me to do what I’m doing right now. But they weren’t giving jobs to black actors and it was a cold and ugly reality,” said the two-time Oscar nominated filmmaker whose early clients included Paula Kelly and Loretta Divine.
“I gangster-ed my way in,” quipped Daniels to the crowd about his finesse for getting through studio gates at Sony, Paramount and Disney and into their casting offices to land jobs. Daniels appearance at the CAA Amplify conference this morning comes two days after he was hit with a $5M fraud suit by Roc-a-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash over a credits settlement on a Richard Pryor biopic that Daniels was to direct.
Daniels graduated to directing after producing Monster’s Ball, which landed Halle Berry a best actress Oscar. However, despite blazing a trail with his own work on film and TV and reaping commercial success, Daniels explained he’s always been told that his projects won’t have the legs to travel — and that’s largely a fallacy, one which his fellow CAA Amplify panelist Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker agreed with.
“I have been brainwashed that the masses didn’t want to see us. I didn’t take ‘No’ (for an answer), I had to see myself. If you can’t see yourself in your (artistic) situation, then don’t do it,” said Daniels, “I was told Empire wouldn’t work, so I made plans to direct a play.” The Fox series was recently renewed for season 5.
Coker remembered as a kid when Yo! MTV Raps was “the most popular show on the network. They kept moving the time slot because people couldn’t accept the fact that the industry had been in denial for many years that if you want to make some green, you’ve got to have some black. When you’re inclusive of who is represented in a movie poster, you’re inviting different demographics to see themselves.”
Daniels advocated black artists to be bold in their work, “even if it means “taking a backlash from your community.”
“Taraji, Terrence and I have 19 year old sons all in great schools, but on probation with the law. That already spoke to me as a reason to write a show. Be inspired by what you know. Unless it’s in your system, you can’t write it for the masses,” said the Empire co-creator.
Daniels, Coker appeared on the CAA Amplify panel with Oklahoma City Thunder NBA player Carmelo Anthony.
While ABC President Channing Dungey was announced as part of the CAA Amplify lineup today, her appearance is only limited to an industry-only attending portion of the diversity conference here at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, not the press.