‘Empire’ creator will talk diversity, gay rights and more at SXSW


Lee Daniels has never been to South by Southwest, but he’ll kick off his first appearance in a big way on Sunday when he delivers a keynote address for the film festival.

“All of my friends have been to South by before, and I’m excited to be finally coming to Austin for it,” Daniels says during a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he’s working on post-production for one of his two hot TV series, “Empire” and “Star.”

And he seems to be a perfect example of the diversity, independence and entrepreneurship that SXSW has tried to foster. He’s gay. He’s black. He develops his own projects through his own company. He was only the second African-American director to be nominated for an Oscar (“Precious,” 2009). And he works in both film and TV.

“I’m still trying to figure out how my career connects with the festival,” he says. “I think my recent TV projects such as ‘Empire’ have opened people’s eyes about how important it is to have people of color in front of the screen as well as behind the screen.” So that will be a big part of the keynote address, he says. But he’ll also touch on other issues regarding race relations and Hollywood, gay rights and homophobia among African-Americans — the latter topic has been a subplot on “Empire,” which focuses on a family that has built a big music company.

Daniels’ address will also be timely in part because of a surge to prominence of African-American movies lately. Daniels would include Oscar best picture winner “Moonlight” in that group, noting that it deals with the coming-of-age of an African-American gay man, but he also points out the more recent satirical horror film “Get Out,” which he calls terrific.

He says he wants to keep his audiences guessing as to what he’ll do and say: “For me, I don’t want to give you what’s expected. And at some point I hope that we can all get beyond talking about race, creed and gender.”

Despite his being tapped for the keynote address, Daniels says, he’s a bit wary about his first SXSW appearance. “I’m always nervous about delivering speeches,” he says. “But as long as I touch one person with what I say, it’s worth the nerves.”

Daniels has been in similar situations before. In 2012, he took his film noir “The Paperboy” to the Cannes Film Festival, where it played in competition for the Palme d’Or. Although it didn’t win or make much of a box-office splash back in the United States, it did help him become friends with Austin’s Matthew McConaughey, who starred in the film with Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman.

Asked if he will be getting in touch with McConaughey during the festival, Daniels responds with a question: “Will Matthew be there? I think I’ll call him right after this to see if he can maybe find me better accommodations than a hotel.”

And Daniels laughs at the last question lobbed at him as he enters an elevator: “Did you really propose that Oprah Winfrey star as a serial killer in a movie one time?”

“Oh, that was a long time ago,” he says. “But yes, I did. Oprah didn’t think it was right for her image. But the movie did get made eventually, with Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. It was called ‘Prisoners.’”

The 2013 movie went on to critical acclaim and won the best ensemble award from the National Board of Review.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

A quarter sheet pan is plenty big enough to hold all my love
A quarter sheet pan is plenty big enough to hold all my love

Nobody would mistake me for being hip and trendy. I have been wearing clogs - not the same pair, mind you - since the Ford administration. Yet I am YASSing and inserting heart emoji on behalf of the quarter sheet pan, which is surfing a wave of popularity. Deservedly so. There it is on social media, roasting a one-pan meal for two. Toasting a handful...
Harissa-rubbed leg of lamb is fit for any special Sunday meal
Harissa-rubbed leg of lamb is fit for any special Sunday meal

Just when you think there are no new recipes or cooking techniques, America’s Test Kitchen comes in with a surprise, like blooming spices for this harissa-rubbed lamb in the microwave. This dish is from one of the company’s new books, “How to Roast Everything: A Game-Changing Guide to Building Flavor in Meat, Vegetables, and More&rdquo...
‘Black Panther’ director has always sought superheroes who look like him
‘Black Panther’ director has always sought superheroes who look like him

When Ryan Coogler was a kid in Oakland, Calif., an older cousin got him hooked on comic books. “X-Men.” “Spider-Man.” He liked all of them, but he was looking for more. “I went to the comic book shop that was by my school and asked if they had any black characters,” Coogler recalled. That was the moment Coogler discovered...
Food & Wine confirms what Texans already knew about Whataburger: It’s all about the HBCB
Food & Wine confirms what Texans already knew about Whataburger: It’s all about the HBCB

I have been saying this to non-Texans for years: You don’t go to Whataburger and just order a plain, no-frills burger. You go to Whataburger expecting something grand. So you order something grand. And your life is changed forever.  Food & Wine writer David Landsel penned a love letter to the W, shouting out the Chop House Cheddar Burger...
Andrew Zimmern checks out Austin’s Tex-Mex, barbecue and live music hotspots
Andrew Zimmern checks out Austin’s Tex-Mex, barbecue and live music hotspots

Esteemed celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern is back at it with a new food and travel series, and of course the season premiere features one of the country’s most exciting food cities: Austin. The premiere of “The Zimmern List,” which airs Tuesday, March 13 at 8 p.m. on the Travel Channel, features back-to-back episodes with visits to Los...
More Stories