Butler University presented ‘An Evening with Lee Daniels’ as part of the Celebration of Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series at Clowes Memorial Hall Wednesday night.
Daniels recently directed and produced the film “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” which played in movie theaters across America. It grossed more than $200 million and is based on the life of Eugene Allen, an African American butler who served eight U.S. presidents across three decades.
Allen, who is portrayed by Forest Whitaker under the name Cecil Gaines in the film, witnessed widespread cultural changes and social reforms during his 34 years of service.
“It’s the story of an American,” Daniels said. “It’s a father-son story more importantly, and I think that transcends race. I think we can all relate to that father-son tension and the backdrop was the civil rights movement.”
During the hour-long speech, Daniels shared his experiences as an openly gay, African American film director.
“He’s got a very remarkable story to tell, and it’s one of determination, one of perseverance, believing in yourself and never losing sight of your goals and your dream—to reach that pinnacle of success,” said Valerie Davidson, Efroymson Diversity Center and diversity programs director.
Daniels chose to leave college and joined a private nursing agency administration. Eventually he broke off and started his own nursing agency in Los Angeles. He later sold the agency and began work as a casting assistant for Warner Bros. Entertainment.
“I traveled the United States doing what I loved and watching what I loved,” Daniels said.
The road to success was a constant battle in the film industry, Daniels said, and it was not an easy one for him to travel.
“There weren’t many people of color that were directors that I could look up to,” Daniels said. “Not many I could identify with.”
Daniel’s discussion is the first speaker in the series this semester.
Davidson said the lecture series is meant to inform the community and Butler students and lead conversation on various issues of diversity.
“In order for us to live, to interact, work and thrive in a global environment like the one we live in, we have to have respect for the diversity that’s inherent in that global society,” Davidson said. “We have to be aware of it, we have to respect it and we have to celebrate it.”
Junior Amy Wright attended the speech and said she was grateful for the experience.
“He had a really deep message while keeping it light-hearted and enjoyable, even though he was speaking about harsh realities in the film industry and life,” Wright said.
Daniels said his inspiration comes from real and honest life experiences and added that he invests a lot of faith in God.
“We’re all just trying to find the truth, everybody,” Daniels said.
Daniels said his next prospective project is a television show.
“Directing and acting is like making love without touching anybody,” Daniels said. “A good director is in sync with his actors.”