Lee Daniels gave his parents an early Christmas present when he entered the world on December 24, 1959; unfortunately, the Philadelphia native was to have a difficult relationship with his police officer father who later reacted violently to his son’s sexuality. Despite the brutality of his childhood, Lee completed high school and attended Lindenwood University in St.Charles, Missouri for two years.
Daniels’s career took an interesting and profitable turn. He moved to Los Angeles and started a nursing agency of his own. He later sold the agency for a substantial sum then began his career in entertainment, first as a casting director and later as a manager. By his mid-twenties, he was working with Prince on Purple Rain (1984) and Under the Cherry Moon (1986). Despite being involved in film production, Lee continued to manage talent and grew a roster of clients that included several Academy Award nominees and winners.
He created his own production company, Lee Daniels Entertainment, and its first film was the acclaimed Monster’s Ball (2001), which starred Billy Bob Thornton, the late Heath Ledger and Halle Berry, who went on to win the Best Actress Oscar. Monster’s Ball was a critical and financial success and as its producer, Daniels became a force to be reckoned with.
In 2004, Lee used skills honed as a filmmaker to produce a series of public service announcements aimed at inspiring young people of color to vote. He worked with former President, Bill Clinton and was able to enlist actor/rap artist LL Cool J and actor/singer Alicia Keys. Lee’s next production, The Woodsman (2004), was another edgy tale about a pedophile trying to reform after being released from prison and starred Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and Yasiin Bey. While The Woodsman (2004) was not the critical success that Monster’s Ball (2001) was, it attracted a great deal of critical attention and earned its star, Kevin Bacon, raves for his performance.
Daniels made his directorial debut with his next project, Shadowboxer (2005), a provocative drama with an intriguing cast that included Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding Jr., Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Stephen Dorff. Shadowboxer (2005) was also the first time Lee worked with Mo’Nique; unfortunately, despite an interesting cast, Shadowboxer (2005) received mixed reviews and failed at the box office. Lee’s next production, Tennessee (2008) was not a critical or financial success but allowed Lee to help singer ‘Mariah Carey’ gain acting credentials after the failure of her first film, Glitter (2001).
Daniels hit the mother lode with his next effort, Precious (2009), which he directed and produced. The film won at the Sundance Film Festival and has garnered every imaginable accolade under the sun. The film stars newcomer Gabourey Sidibe in the title role as a Harlem teen who is the victim of unimaginable abuse from her father, mother and society. The film allowed Daniels to re-team with both Mariah Carey and Mo’Nique, who has been a revelation to both critics and audiences as Precious’s abusive mother. Daniels has said that he felt compelled to bring this story of child abuse to the screen to help heal the scars from his relationship with his abusive father.
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