In a recent lecture to students at Ohio State University, filmmaker Lee Daniels wanted to set the record straight once and for all: he is not Tyler Perry.
Daniels, whose film credits include Monsters Ball, Precious, The Paperboy, Shadowboxer, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler, told the crowd that while both men often make films for and about African Americans the similarities end there.
“My mom said, ‘I don’t understand you, everybody in church thinks something’s wrong with you — all your movies are about freaks. Why can’t you do movies like Tyler Perry?’
While his mother may not condone the subject matter of his films, Daniels said each project is rooted in real life.
“I can’t tell what I have not experienced because it’s not truthful,” he said. “And so I have to work from what I know.”
Daniels, an openly gay man, has had an interesting life. The 54-year-old producer and director admitted he was relentlessly bullied as a child, and was forced to deal with an abusive father who could not accept his sexuality.
He told OSU students about one particularly difficult moment from his life: “When I was 5, my earliest memory was walking down the stairs in my mother’s red high heel shoes, and my dad — he’s a cop — is down playing cards with the boys and it was not pretty — at all. He put me in a trash can and he said that I would never be nothing. He said, ‘You already have it bad, boy, cause you’re black — now you’re a f–got too.’”
Daniels overcame his upbringing, fleeing to Los Angeles as a teen and working a series of odd jobs to make ends meet. At 21, he opened his own nursing agency and in just two years he said he employed 500 nurses and earned his first million. Though successful, Daniels love of storytelling called him in a different direction and he credits working on Prince’s film ‘Purple Rain’ for opening his eyes to a new career.
Daniels quickly found success in film, but his personal life spun out of control. He even abused drugs and neglected his adopted children. In the midst of trying to procure drugs, his life changed.
“I had a long stretch of sobriety of two months — that’s a long-ass stretch. I remember my boyfriend had gone to the hockey game and I had a calling — Satan was over my neck — and I remember walking over my kids, leaving them in the apartment, walking to the drug man. Going to him, you know, knocking and ringing his doorbell, and then having this epiphany at this moment of ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ And so I’ve been sober since.”
Daniels gave up drugs and alcohol and started thinking of projects that his mother would be proud to see.
“Let me go find a movie that’s going to make the church people happy,” he told the crowd, “in comes The Butler.”
The Butler was a box office hit, grossing $137 million and earning award nods. Despite its success, Daniels told the crowd that he can’t just churn out projects, like Perry, because it takes him three or four years to “give birth” to a film.
Throughout the talk, Daniels made it abundantly clear that he is unlike any other director, but in case people are still confuse the two men, both of whom are good friends with Oprah, Daniels made it plain, telling students, “I’m not f—ing Tyler Perry.”