The openly gay Oscar-nominated director of Precious has spoken out against homophobia in the African American community.
Lee Daniels made the comments while promoting his new television drama, Empire, which he co-created. The series is about an African American music and entertainment family business and features a prominent gay storyline.
“Homophobia is rampant in the African American community, and men are on the DL [in the closet],” he commented at a Television Critics Association press event on Saturday.
“They don’t come out, because your priest says, your pastor says, mama says, your next-door neighbour says, your homie says, your brother says, your boss says [it’s wrong].
“And they are killing African American women. They are killing our women. So I wanted to blow the lid off more on homophobia in my community,” he said.
Daniels suggested that the phenomenon of closeted or bisexual African American men living secret double lives because of the stigma attached to gay sex had assisted in the spread of HIV in their community.
“When I did Precious I had to do research on AIDS in the ’80s so I went to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center in New York City, and I expected to see gay men, and there were nothing but African American women and babies with HIV. And that blew me away,” Daniels said.
In Empire’s first episode, the character of Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) is seen shoving his gay son Jamal (Jussie Smollett) in a trash can after he finds the boy wearing his mother’s high heels. The scene was inspired by Daniels’ own experiences as a child.
“I’m glad that I can show the African American community that this is what you’re doing to your son, this is what you’re doing to your nephew, this is what you’re doing to the kid down the street,” Daniels explained.
“What we’re really trying to do … is give people an opportunity to see what they’re doing is painful. It’s crushing someone that could be beautiful.”
The director made similar comments in 2013 while promoting his film The Butler.