In the midst of his discussions about whether actress/comedian Mo’Nique was truly “blackballed” for her refusal to participate in the Hollywood game while campaigning for the film Precious, director Lee Daniels made extremely revealing comments about how much he is willing to close his eyes to racism in order to succeed in his industry.
But his unwillingness to confront racism on behalf of his people stands in stark contrast to previous comments he has made attacking the entire Black community for close-mindedness in not accepting homosexuality.
During an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon, Daniels discussed the brewing controversy over comments he made to Mo’Nique, who has drawn a flood of media coverage after saying Daniels told her she was “blackballed” in Hollywood because of her behavior during the Oscar campaign for Precious. But in the process, Daniels revealed his painfully hollow feelings on race.
“We were on the [press] campaign and she was making unreasonable demands…she wasn’t thinking, and this is where reverse racism, I think, happens,” Daniels said. “I said, ‘You have to thank the producers of the film, you have to thank the studio,’ and I think she didn’t understand that. And I said, ‘Listen, people aren’t going to respond well if you don’t.”
His use of the term “reverse racism” was odd, as if he was somehow implying that the power in the situation resided with Mo’Nique rather than with the studios that have dictated her fate.
“I love her, and I’ve spoken to her. And she’s brilliant, and I like working with brilliant people,” he continued. “But sometimes artists get in their own way — I know I certainly do often. I have my own demons that I get in front of myself…”
Daniels said in order to make it in his business “you gotta play ball.”
“This is not just show. It’s show business and you gotta play ball. I don’t like calling the race card. I don’t believe in it, because if I buy into it then it becomes ‘real.’ If I knew what I knew when I was 21, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now.”
“Some people call that selling out,” Lemon pointed out.
“I guess I’m a sell out then. Call it what it is, but I’m not going to not work, not going to not tell my truth, not going to not call people on their bull. Call it what it is. And see you in theaters.”
His implication was that those who complain about racism in Hollywood are just creating distractions that keep them from working—if they would just shut up and keep their head down, then the white people might throw them some bones. It is precisely the sort of attitude that invades insider industries like Hollywood, where a Black artist is allowed inside the door but is then afraid to make waves that might result in other Black artists coming through the door behind him. Daniels is clearly not interested in making any demands on Hollywood that might endanger his insider status.
This was a premise thoroughly explored in the seminal 1969 novel and film, The Spook Who Sat By The Door, about how white industries will hire a Black token to quiet dissent. But what’s curious about Daniels’ reluctance to speak on racism in Hollywood, this refusal to “play the race card,” is that he has no compunction about turning around and attacking the Black community for its so-called “homophobia,” which he claims is “killing” Black women.
“When I did Precious I had to do research on AIDS in the ’80s so I went to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center in New York City, and I expected to see gay men, and there were nothing but African-American women and babies with HIV. And that blew me away,” Daniels said last month in a room full of white TV critics during a panel discussion about his extremely successful TV show Empire.
Daniels said this was because of the “rampant” homophobia in the Black community, which he said forces Black men to secretly engage in gay sex to avoid being stigmatized.