In Downtown LA’s Orpheum Theater November 21, Outfest honored “Precious” and “The Butler” director Lee Daniels with the Legacy Award, the LGBT film nonprofit’s equivalent of a lifetime achievement award. Clips from his films below.
Daniels, 53, has enjoyed a remarkable career, and one that is far from over. From directorial debut “Shadowboxer” to admirable misfire “The Paperboy” — which sent brief shockwaves along the Croisette at last year’s Cannes — as well as production stints on “Monster’s Ball” and “The Woodsman,” Daniels is one of our most fabulous makers of camp. “What the fuck is camp?” Daniels jibed in his acceptance speech. “I am camp. Camp is what I do.”
His “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” however, is far from camp, a sterling, tearjerking awards hopeful and a far cry from the dismal urban wasteland of “Precious” or the southern swelter of “The Paperboy,” two films that hit hard, but brandish visual flamboyance and a love of performance and actors.
Daniels, gentle and self-effacing with a no-BS charisma, opened up about how there’s no harder role in Hollywood than being a gay black filmmaker and especially one who foregrounds gay characters. Gay representation was largely absent from “The Butler,” but think Matthew McConaughey’s rent boy in “Paperboy.”
But before Daniels held court, an upstager was is in our presence.
Enter stage right, Jane Fonda clad in a loud and proud bedazzled jumpsuit of the leopard/cheetah/zebra variety. Barbarella much? Since Daniels’ films are filled with gay icons, how wildly appropriate for Outfest.
A mere four hours before showtime Fonda had been asked to replace Gabourey Sidibe, now hard at work on FX’s “American Horror Story: Coven,” as presenter. She lovingly described Daniels on set, with whom she worked with for a day and a half to portray Nancy Reagan in “The Butler” (“He’s mean!”) before doling out the Legacy Award. Per Fonda, he’s an actor’s director.
Daniels touted all the seasoned actors he’s worked with, from Fonda and Sidibe to Nicole Kidman and Mariah Carey and more. But he bluntly asked, “Why do you all want to work me? I don’t pay you no money!”
Apparently his “Butler” cast lost money, or just broke even, working on that film, which could snag Forest Whitaker best actor noms this season. Co-star Oprah Winfrey has also gained awards buzz for what is certainly a gay-iconic performance. In 2009, Daniels directed Mo’Nique to an Oscar for “Precious.”
Outfest also revealed outtakes from a 2K restoration of seminal transsexual doc “Paris Is Burning” from the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Daniels said it’s one of his favorite films. But what got Daniels into moviemaking? He dragged his family to see “Pink Flamingos” during its theatrical run in Philadelphia. Needless to say he got quite the spanking.