By La’Erica Conner-Sims
Filmmaker, Lee Daniels called “The Butler” a love story between father and son and used humor to help the audience digest the hard times in his life that led to his current success.
Growing up in West Philadelphia, Daniels did not see many opportunities to succeed. He made it clear to the students in attendance that they should “take advantage of opportunity” when it comes to their education.
With great emotion, Daniels revealed that his father was killed when he was only 12 years old.The Philadelphia police officer was shot in the line of duty.
Daniels then took the audience on an auditory trip through each of his jobs since high school. He first worked for a nursing agency after relocating to California.
Daniels started a health care business after realizing he could manage it on his own. And after working for a nursing agency, he did just that. Daniels started with a handful of clients and grew to manage over 500 nurses and 1,000 patients by the time he was 22 years old.
He credited his drug use to the large amount of money he earned during this time. “When you don’t have an education or you don’t know to pay taxes, what do you do,” Daniels asked. His answer, “You buy houses, you buy Porsches, you roll a lot of drugs and that’s what I did.”
Daniels also shared that he is an openly gay man and had to deal with many friends dying from AIDS when it became an epidemic. After selling his nursing business, Daniels began working for a casting company and worked on movies like “Purple Rain” starring singer-songwriter Prince.
“Prince liked me and believed in me and saw some talent in me,” Daniels said of the musician. Next, Daniels migrated to Warner Brothers and was hired to recruit minority talent.
During a trip to Broadway, Daniels was inspired after seeing the musical “Dreamgirls”. He then began managing minority actors and actresses. He worked with Morgan Freeman, Loretta Devine and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Daniels’ use of drugs was ongoing at this point. “Monster’s Ball” was the first film Daniels produced in 2001, starring Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton and the late Heath Ledger. Berry became the first African-American to win ‘Best Actress’ at the Academy Awards for her role in the film.
On the night of the awards after Berry won, Daniels said he felt he didn’t deserved the recognition. He spoke about how he had a crack pipe in his hands when Berry asked him to join her at a Vanity Fair after party.
Daniels’ children, which he raised from infancy, inspired him to stop using drugs. He warmly spoke about parenting his incarcerated brother’s two children.
The lecture was followed with a questions and answers and an autograph session.