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Film producer and director Lee Daniels is known for films that tackle thorny issues. Monster's Ball won and Oscar and was a $31 million success.
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But Daniels hadn't completely abandoned his dream of working in Hollywood. By chance, a client of his was also a producer who had worked with Prince. The two got to talking one Saturday morning and, when Daniels told him what his real career ambitions were, the producer told him he could help him find a job.
And so, at the age of 22, Daniels sold his agency, pocketed several million dollars, and started a new career as a production assistant. His focus soon became casting,
and he eventually found himself working on big-name projects likeUnder the Cherry Moon and Purple Rain.
In 1984, Daniels, frustrated by the lack of meaty roles available to proven African-American actors, yet again showed his ambition and drive by striking out on his own. He formed Lee Daniels Entertainment, a New York City-based management company whose clients would eventually include some of the biggest names in Hollywood, from Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Hilary Swank to Morgan Freeman and Marianne Jean-Baptiste.
Daniels' foray into movie-making with the creation of Monster's Ball came about after several conversations with Sean Penn about the film. The story, which is centered on a complicated bi-racial romance, had seen more than a few stops and starts as different directors—first Penn, and later Oliver Stone—tried to make a movie out of it. Fascinated by the tale, and frustrated at all the obstacles, Daniels took control of the project himself. He turned to Swiss-born director Marc Foster to lead the movie, and convinced enough A-list talent—Halle Berry and Bill Bob Thornton, among others—to do the film for little money.
The result was an unabashed success, getting a Best Writing nomination at the 2002 Academy Awards, and making Berry the first African-American woman to win a Best Actress Oscar. In addition, the movie made Daniels the first African-American to solely produce an Academy Award-nominated film.
Daniels wasted little time basking in the accolades. In 2004 he produced his next film, The Woodsman, a haunting tale about the tormented life of a child molester who was released from prison. The film, starring Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and Mos Def, earned more acclaim and more awards for Daniels.
Two years later, audiences got a chance to see the result of Daniels' directorial work, with the release of Shadowboxer. Starring Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Mo'Nique, Stephen Dorff, Vanessa Ferlito, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Macy Gray, the film tells the tale of a mother and her stepson who are also assassins.
As it has been with much of his work, Daniel's personal biography factored into his initial attraction to the story. "Shadowboxer was based on my life," Daniels told The Times. "I knew killers. My uncle, who took care of me, murdered people, and yet he took care of me too. People who have gone to jail for murder are also human."
Daniels followed-up the crtically acclaimed film with Precious, the 2009 movie based on the novel Push, by Sapphire.
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