Lee Daniels' background is filled with bold stories as real and gritty as the narratives from the films he creates. By the age of 21, Daniels founded and ran his own health care agency, providing nurses to private homes and hospitals; he was simultaneously trying to be a screenwriter. After selling his health care business, and giving up screenwriting, he began managing actors such as Loretta Divine, Michael Shannon, Natasha Kinsky, and Aishwarya Rai. Daniels turned to producing as a natural result of trying to find and create great material for his clients; the organic leap to directing came soon after.
Daniels' previous project, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, is the story of an overweight, illiterate girl raised in Harlem, sexually abused by her father and about to give birth to her second child, who salvages her future at an alternative school. Starring newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, and featuring a supporting cast that includes Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, and Lenny Kravitz, The Hollywood Reporter called Precious "a disturbing masterwork of human survival," and Variety dubbed it "courageous and uncompromising, a shaken cocktail of debasement and elation, despair and hope-helmer Daniels demonstrates a remarkable, balletic ability to juggle emotional extremes." The film was distributed by Lionsgate with an assist from Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, who said of the file, "I've never seen anything like it" "It's so raw and powerful, it split me open."
Precious won two Academy Awards in 2010: Best Adapted Screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher) and Best Supporting Actress (Mo'Nique). The film received a total of six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Editing, with Daniels nominated as Best Director; making him the second African-American director to be nominated for an Oscar. Daniels also received a historic nomination as the first African-American director to be nominated by the Directors Guild of America. Precious also received three Golden Globe nominations (which Mo'Nique won for best supporting actress) and won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, only the third film in the festival?s history to do so. The film went on to win awards at major international film festivals including Toronto, Deauville, and San Sebastian.
Following up the success of Precious, Daniels next directed The Paperboy starring Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, and Zac Efron. Also based on a best-selling novel of the same name, The Paperboy revolves around a reporter and his brother who investigate the events surrounding a murder to exonerate the accused man on death row. Generating both critical and festival praise, Daniels' film continues to spark the acclaim and buzz reserved usually for only the top echelon of Hollywood artists.
Daniels' latest project, The Butler, follows the life of a White House butler who served under eight different US Presidents over three decades, the film stars Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Terrence Howard, and Cuba Gooding, Jr., among others. The Butler was released August 2013.
Monster's Ball was the first film from Daniels' production company, Lee Daniels Entertainment. The film marked Daniels as the first sole African-American producer of an Oscar-winning and -nominated film. Daniels also produced The Woodsman, which premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards, the film received the Cicae Arthouse Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Jury Prize at the Deauville International Film Festival, and Special Mention for Excellence in Filmmaking from the National Board of Review.
Released in 2006, Shadowboxer, a bold, heart-wrenching tale of two assassins, was Daniels' directorial debut. Following the film's world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Daniels was also nominated for the New Directors Award at the 2006 San Sebastian Film Festival. Daniels also produced the film Tennessee, which premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Daniels and his family live in New York City.