Lee Daniels, director of Precious and Oscar hopeful, is making the interview rounds — and willing to defend his movie at every juncture, including while getting a haircut.
Daniels clearly has a knack for the colorful, emotionally expressive interview, and his recent chats with The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times' awards blogs are no exception. One strange revelation: The producer of Academy Award-nominated Monster's Ball is not himself a member of the Academy.
A spokeswoman for the committee that inducts Academy voters told The New York Times, "Typically they are looking for those that they feel are the most outstanding in any given year. That doesn't mean there wasn't an appreciation for their work. For whatever reason and underlying circumstances, they didn't rise to the top of that group that year." Ouch. Daniels goes on to say that none of Precious cast and crew are members of the Academy — a possible handicap given that people are said to vote for their friends. It's hard not to cringe, his brave face aside:
Still, Mr. Daniels didn't take the Academy's choices personally, he said. "I'm gonna keep trying. It's happened to other friends too, who are not of color." He paused. "It is what it is."
Now about that barbershop. While getting his hair cut at a "local" (Los Angeles?) barbershop, the following took place, according to Daniels:
"So this one guy's in a chair at the end of the shop, he says, 'Did you see that movie "Precious"? I got my bootleg copy. And I don't know how they was depicting African Americans."...He gets worked up even now, in an empty Malibu cinema while his film screens next door, relating how he got out of his chair, sweating, identifying himself and calling out his fellow patrons for criticizing the looks of his actresses and watching bootlegs rather than supporting black filmmakers: " 'You probably have a mother, a sister, a cousin, a friend; you're probably having sex with someone who looks like Precious. How dare you say that you want to see some skinny ta-ta with a weave and shakin' her thing as opposed to the truth. What you're basically saying is you'd like to see a white girl starring in the movie, or some version of what Hollywood thinks is fabulous. Sorry. No. Precious is fabulous.' So it got to be this really deep debate about telling the truth.
Maybe it's just the retelling (Daniels' or the reporter's), but the anecdote is pretty confusing — were the men objecting to Precious's looks or to the film as an overall representation of the African-American community? In any case, there is plenty of room to critique Daniels' film (I for one agreed with the critics who found his choices as a director to be cheesy and distracting) without wanting to see "some version of what Hollywood thinks is fabulous." In fact, so far the films' actresses have largely overshadowed the director in nominations and wins (although best picture awards abound). We'll see if the academy agrees.