Embracing the Yes at Emerson with Precious director Lee Daniels

Oscar-nominated director and all-around bad-ass Lee Daniels dropped by the newly opened Paramount Theatre this past Tuesday to talk to a group of Emerson students about walking the road not taken, believing in your dreams, and loving your kids even if they pop out straight ugly.

As a speaker, Daniels proved to be disarmingly charming. Which didn't stop him from dropping some serious F-bombs all over the room, to the delight of the audience of aspiring directors, actors, and producers. Chatting about his close loss of Best Director at the Directors Guild Awards earlier this year, he joked, "Fucking Kathryn Bigelow, man." 

Though his talk was peppered with off-color jokes and hilarious non-sequiturs, Daniels also made sure to impart a serious, and meaningful, message to his young disciples. He kicked off his 90-minute lecture (sponsored by Emerson student group EBONI) with this advice: "The most important thing is to never embrace the 'No.'" 
Daniels, who first garnered some serious critical acclaim for 2001's Monster's Ball (for which Halle Berry won the first Best Actress Oscar ever awarded to a black woman), also cautioned the students about the hazards of untempered hubris -- when his third film, Shadowboxer, was widely panned he was initially crushed because "I thought I was the shit!" -- and falling for Hollywood's lure of glitter and success at the price of one's ideals. He recalled being wooed by throngs of industry bigwigs promising him untold fame and riches after the success of his first two films. The catch was, Daniels said, that he'd have to play the role of the stereotypical black director. Not down with making movies titled Who's My Baby's Momma's Momma?!, he went off on his own path -- a path that eventually led him to Precious, which received six separate Oscar nods.
In addition to preaching the importance of embracing the "Yes," Daniels scoffed at the notion of wallowing in regret. "It is what it is," he told his rapt audience, when asked about any mistakes he'd ever made. You have to love what you do, everything you do, and to hell with anyone who didn't get it, he added, likening his movies -- blockbusters and total flops alike -- to his babies. "Even if one has, like, a harelip or an arm missing, you still love it," Daniels said. "Because it's yours."
Daniels repeatedly urged his listeners to go after their dreams, and, at the end of the lecture, one audience member decided to put that theory to the test. During the Q&A, a feisty acting major named Alexandria Moorman took advantage of her mic time to ask Daniels for a job. The whole room waited breathlessly as Daniels donned a pair of black-rimmed glasses and scanned her resume ... and then offered her an audition for his upcoming Civil Rights film, Selma. For real. And considering Daniels's penchant for unconventional talent scouting -- he frequented NYC 7-Elevens and subway stations for real-life Preciouses before discovering the unforgettable, Best Actress-nominated Gabourey Sidibe -- it might not be too far-fetched to imagine that Moorman just might be up for her own Oscar one day.

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