Make no mistake about it; Lee Daniels has had a consistent track record of pulling together some of Hollywood’s biggest names to star in his feature films. In addition to casting both Halle Berry and comedienne Mo'Nique for their Academy Award-winning performances in Monster’s Ball and Precious, Daniels aims to repeat his success with his forthcoming film, The Butler.
Featuring an all-star cast including Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda, and Cuba Gooding Jr., to name a few, the film depicts the life and times surrounding an African-American butler, Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House during eight administrations.
While promoting his current film, “The Paperboy,” the bold auteur spoke candidly about filming the forthcoming biopic, in addition to his thoughts on critics.
What can fans expect from your latest film The Paperboy?
I think that you’ll find it very provocative. It’s definitely an unexpected choice after Precious. The reviews have been mixed. They’re the same as Precious, but I’m not here to please you as I did with Precious. With Paperboy, there’s some big stars in it [including Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman] and they were surprised that I got them to do what I got Mo'Nique and Gabby [Gabourey Sidibe] to do. But I think die hard Lee Daniels fans will love the film and those who can’t stomach the truth will be appalled and call it disgusting.
Well, a lot of African-Americans went for me with Precious, and I flipped the script this time. But I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s a very complex study into the minds of African-Americans, it’s my version of The Help, sort of.
What are your thoughts on those who refer to your films as being shot with a dark undertone?
I don’t know what to say about that. I guess it’s a style I’m learning about now that is therapeutic to me, and I’m learning about myself. I’m addressing many of my demons in all of my films. Though I’m criticized often times for portraying African-Americans in a certain way, I love my people. But I also love telling the truth. I don’t hide behind the truth. I take a lot of heat for being honest with my cinema. Even with Monster’s Ball I didn’t know I was going to be attacked the way that I was attacked. A lot of African-Americans are disturbed by Halle Berry having sex with a white man, but I have to tell experiences that I know [from people that I know], otherwise what’s the point? And I think, oftentimes they’re not pretty. Often times, life isn’t pretty. But if you want to see pretty, go see a Tyler Perry movie or go see The Help, or something. And that’s fine.
I think The Bulter isn’t dark. [Laughs] I’m pleasing everybody with The Bulter. I’m giving you PG-13 with just a splash of Lee Daniels.
One of the parallels between The Butler and The Paperboy is that you chose New Orleans as the city to film both movies. What is it about the city that has grabbed your attention?
The food, the people, the general way of living down there, and just the laid-backness of it all. We had a couple of options to shoot The Butler and I decided to shoot in New Orleans. It’s been a great experience for me to shoot this film.
You managed to land another star-studded cast, not to mention you’re reuniting with Mariah Carey.
Yes! Well, you know, we rock like that. I love her and we’re obsessed with each other. Very much like Mo’Nique and Nicole Kidman. I have an affinity towards women and so it’s been a wonderful experience. She’s really quite good in the film. She just wrapped her part a few weeks ago.
Since Cuba Gooding Jr. made headlines in July, have you cracked down on the after hour schedule for the cast?
Yes, yes of course. [Laughs] What can we do? This is my second time working with Cuba. But here’s the thing, I’m like their father and so I have to start screaming and acting like a crazy man for them to pull it in. When you’re making a film you become a family and you have each other’s back. And plus, them people was just f**king with Cuba anyway. But it caused a negative buzz, and we really want to keep it positive for “The Butler.”
How has Oprah’s starring role as the Butler’s wife taken shape thus far?
She’s a monster, man! She’s bringing it and I’m really proud of her. It’s crazy when you’re working with her because people are obsessed. I have to make sure there are no phones around. But we’re having a good time and I think that she’s able to escape the pressures of being Oprah while on my set, because she’s able to sort of be the character. Which is really nice to witness. I wrote this film for her.
Can fans expect the film to debut at Cannes in 2013?
I don’t think it’ll be ready for Cannes next year, because I’m not leaving the edit room until this one’s ready. I would hope to, that’ll be nice. But it’s like a monster. It’s long and detailed, so it’s going to take a while to edit. I’m hoping to make Cannes, but I don’t think that I’m going to be able to make it.
More African-American Filmmakers:
Besides Woody Allen, no other filmmaker has had more films on the big screen in the last 20 years than Lee. From "She's Gotta Have It" to "Jungle Fever" to the critically acclaimed and Oscar-nominated "Do The Right Thing," Lee's production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced more than 35 films since 1983. In 2008, the Atlanta native released his latest film, "Miracle at St. Anna," a story about blacks fighting in WWII.
A native of Los Angeles, this USC film school graduate blazed onto the Hollywood scene in 1991 with his debut film "Boyz N the Hood," which starred Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube and Nia Long. At age 23, he was nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay and was the youngest person ever nominated for best director, the only African American to be nominated for the award. Since then, he has directed many films, from "Poetic Justice" and "Higher Learning" to blockbusters such as "2 Fast 2 Furious" and "Four Brothers." Future projects include "Tulia" and the long-awaited "Luke Cage."
Beginning his career in entertainment as a casting director and manager, the Philadelphia native worked on projects such as Prince's "Under the Cherry Moon" and "Purple Rain," before hitting the jackpot with his production of "Monster's Ball" in 2001. That film garnered Halle Berry a Best Actress Oscar, making her the first African-American woman to do so. In 2006, Daniels made his directorial debut with "Shadowboxer, which starred Oscar-winners Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren. His latest directing gig, "Precious," was amongst the best of the 2010 awards season.
Filmmaker Tyler Perry has had an indelible impact on the film business this decade. Bringing his theatrical character Madea Simmons to the big screen has proven very successful at the box office. From "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" to "Madea's Family Reunion" and "Why Did I Get Married?," which featured the return of Janet Jackson to the big screen, Perry's films have grossed close to $500 million in five years.
A trailblazer in the industry, the California native has nearly 20 years in the business as an award-winning producer and studio executive in television, music and film. Shortly after graduating from Stanford University with a degree in psychobiology, Edmonds made her formal entry into the entertainment business in 1993 with the creation of Edmonds Entertainment Group, a partnership with her then-husband, music producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. Edmonds Entertainment produced the critically acclaimed film "Soul Food," which earned five NAACP Image Awards and inspired the TV series of the same name. Other movie projects helmed by Edmonds: "Light It Up," "Josie & The Pussycats" and "Who's Your Caddy."
George Tillman Jr.
Notable for directing the films "Soul Food" (1997) and "Men of Honor" (2000), Tillman has produced several movies and TV series, including "Soul Food: The Series" for Showtime Network and the three films of the "Barbershop" franchise. Most recently, the Milwaukee native directed the 2009 biopic "Notorious" about New York rapper Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace.
Primarily known as a comedian, this Chicago native established himself when he wrote, directed, produced and starred in the comedy "Hollywood Shuffle," his 1987 film about struggling black actors. He also created and produced the CableACE award-winning "Robert Townsend and His Partners in Crime" for HBO. His best film to date is the 1991 musical "The Five Heartbeats." Townsend directed the documentary "Why We Laugh," a story on black comedians and their impact in America.
Rainforest Films co-founder and chairman Will Packer has been heralded as one of the "10 Producers To Watch" over the years and is notable for producing the urban drama "Trois. The film went on to gross $1.2 million at the box office, making it the fastest million-dollar grossing film distributed by African Americans. Packer's hit movies include "Stomp The Yard," starring Chris Brown; "Obsessed," starring Beyonce Knowles; and "Takers," starring Idris Elba, Paul Walker and T.I.
A graduate of Brown and New York universities, this San Francisco filmmaker made her film debut with the 2003 award-winning short film "D.E.B.S.," the story of a teenage lesbian relationship. The film was subsequently green-lighted to full-length feature and released in 2005, along with her second film, "Herbie Fully Loaded," which starred Lindsay Lohan. Robinson became the first female director to have two films out in the same year.
After directing music videos for many artists, including Prince and Toni Braxton, the Pittsburgh native stepped up his game and directed feature films before getting his big break with "The Replacement Killers" in 1998. Three years later, his biggest film to date, "Training Day," garnered star Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar. Fuqua's latest film, "Brooklyn's Finest," starred Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle.
Known for his imposing figure and turns in action films such as 1987's "Predator," the Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native began directing feature-length films in the 1990s with the crime dramas "A Rage in Harlem," "Deep Cover" and "Hoodlum." In 2007, Duke directed "Cover," with Vivica A. Fox, and "Not Easily Broken," based on a T.D. Jakes novel.
Ernest R. Dickerson
After a start as a music video cinematographer, the Newark, N.J., native went on to make his feature film debut in 1983 on Spike Lee's first film "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads." An alum of both Howard University and New York University, Dickerson collaborated with Lee on such films as "She's Gotta Have It" and "Malcolm X." Dickerson's directorial debut came with the 1992 film "Juice," starring Omar Epps and the late Tupac Shakur. His impressive resume also includes work on such TV shows as "The Wire," "Heroes" and "Dexter."
Prince-Bythewood started her career as a writer for "A Different World" and "Felicity," and has since directed two urban romantic films, "Love and Basketball" and "Disappearing Acts." She won an Independent Spirit Award for best first feature and a Humanitas Prize for her work on "Basketball." Married to writer/director Reggie Rock Bythewood, Gina recently directed "The Secret Life of Bees," which stars Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, and is nominated for several NAACP Image Awards, including best picture.
Former consultant-turned-studio development exec and screenwriter, Franklin Leonard is responsible for the creation of "The Black List." In 2005 the Columbus, Ohio, native embarked on the annual ranking of outstanding unproduced screenplays during his tenure at Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, Appian Way. By leveraging over 300 film insiders between London, New York and Hollywood, Leonard has tapped into a niche system of overlooked scripts and writers.
An Academy Award winner for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film "The Last King of Scotland," the Longview, Texas, native has directed many films, including the fan favorite "Waiting to Exhale," based on the Terry McMillan novel of the same name. Other directorial films from Whitaker include "Hope Floats" and "First Daughter."
F. Gary Gray
Having directed more than 30 music videos for artists such as Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, TLC, Dr. Dre and Mary J. Blige, and winning several awards in the process, the New York native moved into the film world with cult favorite "Friday," starring Ice Cube and Chris Tucker. He followed that film with another fan favorite, "Set It Off," with Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox and Jada Pinkett Smith, before moving on to big-budget films such as "The Negotiator," "The Italian Job" and "Be Cool." His next feature is slated to be "Marvin: The Life Story of Marvin Gaye."
Malcolm D. Lee
Lee made his debut in 1999 with the critically acclaimed "The Best Man," starring Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Terrence Howard and Morris Chestnut. The film topped the box office, and Lee has subsequently gone on to direct films such as "Undercover Brother" and "Roll Bounce." His film "Soul Men" starred Samuel L. Jackson and featured the last performances of Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, who died before its release.
An actor for most of her career, the St. Louis native made her directorial debut in 1997 with the critically acclaimed "Eve's Bayou," which starred Samuel L. Jackson and Lynn Whitfield. Married to actor and director Vondie Curtis-Hall, Lemmons has also directed "The Caveman's Valentine" and "Talk to Me," which starred Don Cheadle in the story of Washington, D.C., radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene.
In 1991, this Queens, New York, native gave us the film "Daughters of the Dust," which tells the story of three generations of Gullah women at the turn of the 20th century. It was the first full-length film with general theatrical release in the United States by an African-American woman. In 2004, the film was included in the National Film Registry.
As long-time friend and business partner of actor Will Smith, the Philadelphia native has decades of collaboration with his famous friend under his belt. The two formed the production company Overbrook Entertainment in the late 1990s, a moniker inspired by Smith's high school in West Philadelphia. As a film producer, Lassiter has been behind such films as "ATL," "I Am Legend" and "The Secret Life of Bees."
Albert and Allen Hughes
These twin brothers put their stamp on Hollywood with 1993's "Menace II Society," which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to positive reviews and became a cult classic with urban audiences. The Hughes Brothers went on to direct other films such as "Dead Presidents" and "From Hell" with Johnny Depp. Out of the spotlight for some years, the Detroit natives returned to the big screen with "The Book of Eli," starring Denzel Washington, in 2010.
Along with his brother, Warrington, the Centreville, Illinois, native were at the crest of a new wave of filmmakers who followed Spike Lee with their urban comedy "House Party" in 1990. That film starred rap duo Kid 'n Play and Martin Lawrence. "Boomerang," starring Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry, followed, and Hudlin was afterwards hired as president of entertainment for BET in 2005. No longer with BET, Hudlin wrote the Marvel Comics series "Black Panther."
A jack-of-all-trades in the film business (director, producer, screenwriter, singer and actor), the Hattiesburg, Miss., native has sought to explore the lesbian and gay experience in films. He made his feature film directorial debut in 2000 with "Punks," which traveled the festival circuit before hitting theaters in 2001. In 2005, Polk served as the creator of the gay TV series "Noah's Arc." After its cancellation, he made a feature film based on the show called "Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom," which played to limited release.
A pioneer in the film business and a legend in the African-American community, Davis was an actor, director, poet, playwright, writer and social activist whose career spanned nearly five decades. Davis directed numerous films during the blaxploitation era, including 1970's "Cotton Comes to Harlem" and 1973's "Gordon's War." Along with wife Ruby Dee, the Georgia native starred in many movies, including several of Spike Lee's films, such as "Do The Right Thing," "Jungle Fever" and "She Hate Me."
This Metropolis, Ill., native revolutionized the film industry when he formed his own movie production company and, in 1919, became the first African American to make a film. He wrote, directed and produced the silent motion picture "The Homesteader" and then introduced the film world to Paul Robeson in "Body and Soul." In 1986, the Directors Guild of America honored Micheaux with a Golden Jubilee Special Award, and today the Oscar Micheaux Award is presented each year by the Producers Guild.
Melvin Van Peebles
This Chicago actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, novelist and composer is most famously known for his contribution to the blaxploitation era with the independently financed and critically acclaimed film "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song." The 1971 film was written, produced, scored, directed by and starred Van Peebles, and it tells the story of a deprived African-American man on his escape from the white authorities. The father of actor/director Mario, Melvin completed the film "Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha" in 2008, which played at various film festivals.
A former assistant director on Comedy Central's seminal sketch comedy series "Chappelle's Show," this Madison, Wisc., native took Hollywood by storm with stories of the black gay experience. His first foray was the ambitious effort "Ski Trip," which was shot in 10 days for $10,000 and featured a cast of newcomers. Jamal hit his stride with 2007's "Dirty Laundry," starring Rockmond Dunbar, Loretta Devine and Jenifer Lewis, winning rave reviews and garnering numerous festival awards and distribution by Fox Searchlight.
This Brooklyn-born filmmaker broke through the ranks of Hollywood with the 1991 independent film "Straight Out of Brooklyn," which he financed through credit cards and donations. The film grossed a little over $2 million from a budget of $450,000, and the 19-year-old quickly won fame and awards, including an Independent Spirit Award. In 1994, his second feature, "The Inkwell," was distributed by Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney. The film was a box office disappointment, and Rich hasn't returned to the spotlight since.
This Bronx native worked her way up the ladder, from short films to work as an assistant camera operator for Jonathan Demme's documentary "Cousin Bobby." Producer Stephanie Allain gave her the green light to direct her debut film, "I Like It Like That," in 1994, making Martin the first African-American woman to direct and produce a major studio movie. In 2008, Martin wrote and directed the musical drama "Cadillac Records," which features Jeffrey Wright, Beyonce Knowles and Mos Def.
Known for her role as Jacqueline "Jackie" Deveraux, the daughter of Diahann Carroll's character Dominique Deveraux on the ABC prime-time soap opera "Dynasty," this New York filmmaker started to work behind the scenes, making her screenwriting debut in 1997 with "B*A*P*S*," which starred Halle Berry. She followed up with a screenwriting project, "Let's Talk About Sex," before writing and directing the Nick Cannon/Christina Milian film "Love Don't Cost a Thing," a remake of "Can't Buy Me Love."
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