HRC Blog

‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ Takes No. 1 at the Box Office

Lee Daniels, HRCOpenly gay filmmaker Lee Daniels scored big at the box office this weekend, as his film The Butler took the No. 1 spot despite competition from several other big-name films.

The Butler took in $25 million and scored an 83 percent approval rating among viewers, according to the site Rottentomatoes.com. The film traces 20th century historical events through the vantage point of a longtime White House butler. It is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who worked in the White House under eight presidents.

HRC honored Daniels with the Visibility Award at the 2010 National Dinner, following the release of the critically acclaimed film Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire. Precious won two Academy Awards and received six nominations, among many other accolades.

Following a busy awards season in 2010, Daniels sat down for an interview with HRC’s Equality magazine. Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A:

How has working in Hollywood been for you?

During the whole Oscar thing, everyone was saying, “Oh, he’s gay,” and “Oh, he’s black,” and I would say, “No, I’m a filmmaker.” I wear my gayness as a badge and I wear my color as a badge. I can’t change that … I loathe dishonesty. It is very difficult coming out. As an African-American, it’s so easy to be in the closet, in the work arena and in family life.

What are the main challenges about being gay and black in Hollywood?

You know, there is the belief that there is a gay mafia that is there. But there are people there that stop you. There is a self-loathing that is there, and it’s not just gay men, it’s also black men. Now, it’s hard for African-American men to not embrace what I’m doing now. I come in very “masculine” and they don’t know what to do with that. It throws people off. So until I tell people I’m gay, they don’t know it, then it throws them for a loop. It’s intimidating, and it takes people a moment because they like my work and they think because they like my work they have to like me and they just aren’t sure what to think.

You’ve talked at times about your father, a police officer – that he wasn’t happy about you being gay.

Yes, I was 5 or 6 and I remember walking down the stairs, hardwood floors, in my mother’s red high heels. My dad was playing poker with his cop friends, who were white. That was a big deal in the ‘60s, having white guys over at the house, everything had to be perfect. And here is his son wearing hells. I’m walking down the stairs and he got really mad and that began a series of beatings. I should have been conditioned not to take that walk, but it didn’t stop me.

How is your mom about you being gay?

Fabulous. I mean, she was concerned, but she has come a long way. I was 18 when I came out. She cried when she found out. I told her, but she was smiling. She was crying because she knew what was in store for me. I said, “Ma, I’m never going to be not OK, because I love myself. That’s all that matters. It was a really emotional time for her because she taught me how to do that. Everything I do has been for people that don’t have a voice.

Watch a clip of Daniels’ appearance at the 2010 HRC National Dinner:

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