Despite earning two Academy Awards nominations and launching the hit series “Empire,” director Lee Daniels can’t seem to make his mother happy. At a recent interview, the successful showrunner said his mom would prefer if he made “movies like Tyler Perry.”
Daniels revealed at a roundtable of directors for The Hollywood Reporter that he had gotten flak from fans who criticized the way his hit show “Empire” depicted its predominately black cast. “Empire” follows the story of a hip hop mogul who will stop at nothing to see his company succeed, unless his family has something to say about it. Daniels faced similar criticism when “Precious” was released in 2009.
Apparently, his mother was on their side of criticism. “My mom said to me prior to ‘Empire,’ prior to even ‘Butler,’ ‘Can't you do movies like Tyler Perry?’" Daniels recalled. He laughed off the criticism, “Well, this is the world that I know. This is as honest as I can be.”
Although the two directors have now found success on the film and television fronts, their career styles couldn’t be further apart. Tyler Perry grew a sizable fan base since his Madea movies took off after 2005’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” The prolific Atlanta-based director has overseen 38 projects in the time it took latecomer Daniels to direct six. Perry’s movies and TV shows tend to have a moralizing tone and largely espouse traditional family values.
On the opposite side of the coin is showrunner Lee Daniels, better known for his more liberal views on sexuality and relationships. On “Empire,” former husband and wife Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) carry on in an undefined open relationship that cooled or heated on an episode’s whim.
Both Daniels’ film “The Paperboy” and “Empire” address issues of closeted homosexuality, including persecution and rejection. One of the central conflicts of “Empire” revolves around Lucious’ homophobia against his son Jamal (Jussie Smollett). Lee Daniels has become a prominent public figure for LGBT causes and recently won an award from the Family Equality Council.
Well, whatever Lee Daniels is doing for “Empire;” it’s working. Let Perry be Perry and Daniels be Daniels.