An Evening with Director Lee Daniels

Date: August 19. Venue: Apple Store (SoHo)

Before an intimate audience, Oscar nominated filmmaker Lee Daniels and Academy Award winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr discuss The Butler movie and open up to Questions & Answers.

For Lee Daniels, fatherhood has cemented a real connection to the father & son love story that is The Butler; a Danny Strong script of people fighting to save the soul of their country, both coloreds and whites coming together to pave the Civil Rights Movement.

Riding through the discomfort, Daniels deliberated on the ever-present face of racism, disclosing accounts in which he and his children were blatantly watched and followed in stores. “Racism is insidious and politically incorrect to say, but when you are ignored by a millisecond in stores or you stand in line for a taxi and the taxi goes directly to your neighbor, and my son asks ‘why am I being followed?’ This is an embarrassing topic, so we address the issue of racism in The Butler movie.” 

In retrospect, the Gaines are an American family with the Civil Rights Movement as a backdrop, but no one can deny the father & son theme, an element any race can relate to.

When asked Why Forest Whitaker for the role? Daniels raves, “Forest had humility, chemistry, and I believed he could be Oprah’s husband.” Candidly he admitted to how terrified he was to have Oprah in his movie, an emphasis on “O-P-R-A-H,” he exclaimed delightfully.

Cuba Gooding Jr. interjected his views, commending Lee for his impeccable taste in scripts, praising him for keeping his hand in every aspect of film, including wardrobe, and hailing him the next generation of filmmakers for encompassing an unbiased depiction of the Civil Rights Movement.

Lee’s reaction to the success of The Butler taps into painful memories of his childhood. “When you come from an abusive father, looking at the situation from a negative point of view, and then Harvey Weinstein calls me and says the movie made number one, I felt terrified. How do I outdo myself now? This is a very humbling experience.” He then goes on to lament the lack of opportunity for black heroes in film “only whites save the day” Lee points out, “because of how history has played out.”

One audience member chimed in, stating “The Butler movie has helped us, as we all put The Butler’s face at work.”

To the question What did your mother think about The Butler? Daniel revealed more sorrow from his childhood, from never receiving affirmation by his mother to homophobic abuse from his father. He does, however, appreciate the father & son relationship Cuba Gooding Jr has with Cuba Gooding Sr. On the topic of school, Lee was bullied for being gay, so his mother decided to transfer him to a white school where he was then subjected to the N-Word. It was through writing that Daniels began to express himself.

Cuba Gooding Jr shared his perspective on the Sit-In scene from The Butler, recalling how the atrocity was not mentioned in schools, but the movie sheds light on it. “Red, White and Blue represents all, we are one nation of color.” –Cuba Gooding Jr. Adding to this, Daniel directs his attention to The Diary of Anne Frank, disappointed that her story has received more airtime in schools than Black History.

For more on this insightful event, be sure to log into iTunes and download Meet The Filmmaker:  Lee Daniels, “The Butler” podcast.

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