50-year-old, openly-gay producer/director Lee Daniels was the first African American sole producer of an Academy Award-winning film for Monster’s Ball (starring Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton and Heath Ledger). The 2001 film about race, politics, feminism, and the legal system won a Screen Actors Guild Award (SAG) for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role (Halle Berry), two National Board of Review awards and a Black Reel Award. Monster’s Ball was the first production from Lee Daniels Entertainment – a company started by Daniels. Prior to his work on Monster’s Ball, Daniels worked as a casting director on the films Under the Cherry Moon and Purple Rain.
Following the success of Monster’s Ball, Daniels produced the Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick film The Woodsman in 2004. He would make his directorial debut with the film Shadowboxer in 2006. Shadowboxer starred Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Mon’Nique, Joseph Gorden-Levitt, and Macy Gray (among others). 2008 would bring the film production of Tennessee starring Adam Rothenberg, Ethan Peck, Mariah Carey, and Lance Reddick.
Daniels teamed up again in 2009 with Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey for the two-time Academy Award-winning film Precious. The movie was based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire and depicted a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship on the brink of multiple emotional disasters. Daniels would be honored at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2010 for his work on the film and for being a celebrated gay black director in film.
Politically-speaking, Daniels produced public service announcements to urge young people of color to vote in 2004. The ads would feature LL Cool J and Alicia Keys.
Daniels has two adopted children and currently resides in New York City. His next feature film is based on the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson. It is slated to release in 2011 and is called Selma.