“If you’re running in fear, there’s a moment where you have to stop, and it snaps in you: you’ve got to stop this shit, and you’ve got to fight back,” Daniels says in a media conference call Monday. “I’ve lived my life open and from a place of truth. I don’t know how else to live it. People that want to hang out with me, right on, and people that don’t know quite what to make of it, fuck them.”
Daniels recognizes that his “fuck ’em attitude” — as well as his skin color and sexual orientation — have created barriers throughout his career, but he has emerged as one of the most acclaimed directors of the last decade. In 2001, Daniels guided Halle Berry to a best actress Oscar in “Monster’s Ball,” and his date to the Atlanta HRC Dinner, Mo’Nique, swept best supporting actress trophies during the 2009 awards season, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Mo’Nique is receiving the Ally for Equality Award at the HRC dinner, and Daniels said he couldn’t think of someone more deserving.
“She jumps in for gay rights in a way that is not superficial, that comes from the heart,” he says. “She understands our plight and our movement better than any celebrity that I know.”
When evaluating the plight of LGBT Americans, Daniels is astonished by the way history seems to repeat itself.
“We have to protest, beg, justify ourselves to have the same rights as heterosexuals,” he says. “It makes me scratch my head that we are in the same position that my grandfather was in trying to vote.”
Still, Daniels is encouraged that LGBT citizens are poised to being fully included in American society.
“I believe in the next ten years, it will still be an issue, but I think we will have those rights, they are in sight,” he says. “But when you’re in it, it makes you scratch your head.”
Daniels’ next project is “The Paperboy,” which is based on the novel by National Book Award-winner Pete Dexter. Daniels describes it as “a love story between two brothers,” where one learns to accept that his brother is gay.
Daniels believes that Hollywood can help LGBT youth feel less isolated by offering affirming portrayals, and by those in the industry setting an example of success. While gay actors face the stigma of not being able to play heterosexual roles, Daniels says stars like Neil Patrick Harris ars helping destroy stereotypes.
“I just think he’s done an incredible job at setting the tone, with dignity,” Daniels says. “And he’s able to play these heterosexual roles — believably — and I think these other actors need to follow suit to what he’s done. He’s my hero for that.”
Daniels used to be frustrated when high-profile celebrities refused to come out, but says he’s learned that it’s a personal decision.
“It is important to live your life in what is best for you, and you have to come out in your own time, as long as you’re not hurting the cause,” Daniels says. “People in Hollywood are running around afraid, too.”
Top photo: Lee Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director for “Precious,” will appear at the Atlanta HRC Dinner on May 14. (courtesy HRC)