This article was first published on Medium on 2 March 2015.
Director Lee Daniels thinks that acknowledging race would invite racism and exclusion. He is very mistaken. The idea that racism only materialises because we confront it actually goes against the definition of racism. Racism rests on relations of power. What people say and do about race, including their inaction, all contributes to racist relations.
Daniels went on CNN to respond to recent claims by actress Mo’Nique that she was “blackballed” by Hollywood. Mo’Nique says Daniels explained that acting opportunities were being denied to her because she refused to go along with studio requests to join the press junket to the Cannes Film Festival for the film Precious, which he directed and she starred in 2010.
When asked whether Mo’Nique’s situation in Hollywood can improve, Daniels explains:
Daniels: I mean if she plays ball. You got to play ball. This is not just show. It’s show business. And you’ve got to play ball, and you can’t scream — I don’t like calling the race card. I don’t believe in it. I don’t believe in it. Because if I buy into it, then it becomes real.
CNN host Don Lemon: Some people call that selling-out…
Daniels: Selling-out? I guess I’m a sell-out then. Call it what it is. But I’m not going to not work, and I’m not going to not tell my truth. And I’m not going to call people out on their bull. So whatever that means; sell out, okay! [Laughs] I’ll see you in the theatres! [Laughs]
He goes on to share a touching background story about a storyline in his TV show Empire, based on his father’s violent reaction to his early queer identity. Speaking with Out, Daniels links his coming out experience to the ongoing violence faced by queer Black youth today. So while he can see a connection between race and homophobia, he seems unwilling to address race as having an impact on his career. Continue reading Not “Playing Ball” With Hollywood Racism