Empire director Lee Daniels opens up about his past drug abuse and growing up struggling with his sexuality. The son of a Philadelphia cop, Daniels spoke about the memorable Empire scene based on his own life where Lucious throws his son in the trash.
When Lee Daniels was 8 years old, his dad threw him in a trash can.
The director of Precious and Lee Daniels’ The Butler was growing up in Philadelphia, the son of a cop, when his father saw him trying out his mother’s high heels. “I walked down the stairs with high heels on, and he put me in the trash can,” Daniels recalled. “I think that’s where Precious came from, because I remember the stench. I remember the dark, the cold, my mother trying to fight, and then me, thinking that I was Aladdin on a carpet escaping. And I think that’s why I so related to Precious. But that was just one of many times. And I have no hate in my heart for my father at all. I think that he didn’t understand [Daniels being gay]. He completely didn’t understand and he knew that it was hard enough being a black man, and thought that if he scared it out of me, in hindsight, I think he thought that if he scared it out of me, that I wouldn’t be gay, because he just couldn’t imagine what my life would be.”
By contrast, Daniels’ grandmother did understand. “She saw greatness, and she said that I was going to have greatness far beyond hers, which was incomprehensible to me at the time. My dad told me I was going to be nothing. [But] she says, ‘Listen, you know, you’re not like all the other guys around here. You are a faggot.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ And she says, ‘Don’t worry about it, but you’re going to get used to — people are going to call you that. But you have to remember, as long as you are strong, as long as you are fearless, as long as you are honest, you have nothing to worry about.'”
Daniels spoke March 22 at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV, where he took part in the ongoing interview series The Hollywood Masters. Later, after dropping out of college, he came to Los Angeles, “and then something called AIDS hit.
“That I don’t have AIDS is a miracle from God,” says the ‘Empire’ creator.
“All my friends were dying. … I was making an enormous amount of money [operating an agency for nurses]. I came from extreme poverty. I didn’t know what to do with the money, so what do you do? Houses, clothes, I don’t know. Drugs, parties, at 22, 23-ish. And still directing theater. And AIDS hit. And again, it wiped away all of my friends. I had no friends. And we were all together because their parents weren’t taking them in. And we were burying each other, because most parents, 90 percent of the parents, were not taking them in. And it hit the community hard. It was terrifying, because we never knew whether you could drink from glasses or what it was. It was the most terrifying thing ever. And I didn’t understand why it was that I wasn’t [dead], because there were far better souls than me that were going. I thought that I needed to go. And so I descended into drugs and into sexual bath houses to die. That I don’t have AIDS is a miracle from God. I don’t understand it. I really don’t understand it. Because I should have had HIV. Everybody else did.”
See full interview below:
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