Lee Daniels gets the “Black man” salute in my book. Because if ever I’ve seen somebody who can say, “Look, y’all Negros are getting on my last nerve” it’s Lee. First, it was Dame Dash, former Roc-A-Fella CEO. Dame claimed Lee owed him $2 million from an unpaid loan for a 2004 film that flopped. Daniels failed to pay the sum as part of a court settlement and Dame started talking trash about Lee instead of taking it back to court, calling him out any and everywhere even dubbing Daniels a “culture vulture.” He also followed and cornered Daniels at a Diana Ross concert last year. So, he couldn’t even enjoy a day off without being confronted. And Lee probably paid good money for those tickets, too.
Then, there’s Monique. Ever since Empire, the mega hit weekly series created and produced by Daniels first hit the air, the comedienne has been calling him out. Monique claimed first that Lee promised the lead role of “Cookie” Lyon to her. She’s been relentless in her anger and criticism of Lee Daniels as well as Tyler Perry and Oprah, producers of the film, “Precious” in which Monique starred and won an Oscar for her performance. Monique then claimed Daniels said doors would open for her because of her talented performance and subsequent Oscar not. However, when her phone didn’t ring, Monique inquired why to Lee who allegedly told her that she was “black (white) balled” in Hollywood because she was rumored to be, “difficult to work with.” This stemmed from Monique’s refusal to attend, promote and campaign for the film at the Cannes film festival. Precious was released in November, 2009.
So, here we are almost ten years later and it’s still a “thing.” Some say Monique’s role in Precious didn’t require much creativity and range and as a survivor herself, Monique’s performance was reflective of her own abuse and experiences and of severely disenfranchised persons in Baltimore and other urban areas. Some say her resume’ was not extensive enough to warrant offers for movie roles. And then some bemoan that it seems the Academy awards their trophy to Blacks only for very negative, stereotypical roles. Nonetheless, Monique “secured the statue” and was adamant that she should not have been “labeled” for saying “No” to these very powerful persons in addition to Lionsgate.
For years lately, Monique has expressed her feelings on her podcast, on talk radio and most recently, with Steve Harvey whom she blamed for not “having her back.” Others she’s called out include sister comediennes Sheryl Underwood, Kym Whitley and Whoopi Goldberg. And Mo was not taking any prisoners. Most recently, she sat down with Steve to “clear the air.” Bottom line: He told her how the game’s played in “Hollyweird.” To me, Steve was saying, “Mo, if you want to get paid here, you have to play the game (Robert Townsend’s “Hollywood Shuffle”). But playing on your own terms only, i.e. changing the game is not an option.” Or she can opt to not play the Hollywood game at all, as Ali said.
Lee Daniels has been quiet throughout this entire time (sort of) despite Mo and her husband/manager Sydney coming for him. However, he recently responded in a YouTube video. Now, I’m not sympathetic towards Lee because I see it as a cost of fame (Biggie told us decades ago that there’s a price to pay). Also, I am not taking sides. But this acrimonious “tiff” has gone on for far too long; it’s time to forgive, heal and move forward. Steve agreed with what Monique said but not how she said it and he apologized for his part. He offered to try to arrange a “meeting” of sorts with her, Lee, Tyler (Perry) and Oprah (that’s where they left it). “We’ll see if this will finally bring any resolution and peace,” or so I thought. No, because then, Mo clapped back accusing Steve of “cooning.”
And speaking of mega or maga, *sigh* next comes Jussie Smollet. Even those who have never watched Empire by now know he’s the actor who plays Jamal, the middle son, of Luscious and Cookie Lyon. On January 28, Smollett was reportedly beaten, doused with a substance (bleach) and a noose was tied (I use that term loosely) around his neck by two men in maga (Make America Great Again) caps. Although some Blacks withheld comment and some even voiced their skepticism, many (Blacks) including Daniels who, like Smollett is outwardly gay, immediately expressed their support and outrage. In his emotional post on Instagram, Lee said, “America is better than that. It starts at home, yo…..Hold your head up, Jussie. I’m with you. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Since then, it’s come out that two Nigerian brothers were possibly “paid” for staging the early morning attack; it’s not looking too good for Jussie. But what is worse, Smollett has hit a trifacta (at least) in his accusations: race (Black), LGBTQ and anti-Trump. How sad for Civil Rights veterans, witnesses and actual victims of abject racism and lynchings in ugly Jim Crow south. Not to mention that as this distasteful and disgraceful jaunt was displayed before the media, everybody was Black. And I mean EVERYBODY: Chicago Police Chief Eddie Johnson, the Judge Jussie appeared before last Thursday; the “attackers”; his most vocal supporters; and Lee Daniels. All this during Black History Month. Smh. What a waste.
This is a bi-product of not knowing the struggles Blacks had to overcome to get Jussie and others to where they are today. And it’s the argument for celebrating the contributions and successes of Blacks in this country during Black History Month and beyond. It’s why we must constantly and forever teach our children about our history, even the ugly parts including 400 years of violence, brutality and chattel slavery; systemic racism and white supremacy; Blackface; forced experimentation, intimidation, land and wealth appropriation and theft; segregation and discrimination of every type; and poverty and fraudulent and predatory practices on every level. Our ancestors did not pray, fight, bleed and die for our children to make a mockery of their horrors. Jussie did apologize but to his Empire family only “swearing to God” he’s “innocent”.
However, we Blacks don’t have the luxury of being individualized; we’re viewed as if we all know one another and have the same thought and opinion. So now, we have to come up with an answer for when non-Blacks ask us about this ordeal (because it’s coming). I’ve already had to use mine: “Jussie’s multi-racial and that’s his white side ‘cause we don’t do stuff like that,” and “He’s innocent (because who would be so stupid as to write checks to hire people for a conspiracy?)” a segue to Cohen-Trump. I ended with, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” And if neither of these work, than “Hey, how about that billionaire guy, Kraft?”
I remember where and how excited I was when Empire’s first episode was released; almost everybody I know was sitting in front of their television sets in anticipation of something great. And it didn’t fail. Although we initially thought he’d reached meteoric fame when Empire premiered, Lee’s looking much grayer, balder and sadder now. Moreover, it’s reported that Jussie staged this “attack” because he was not happy with his contract paying $65,000 per episode. Thus, ultimately, Lee Daniels is the “bad guy” for not paying Jussie enough. He can’t catch a break. So, if you thought Lee was on top and out of reach, these situations clearly show that he’s got the same problems as the average Black man (or woman): Folks hitting him up for their money; his name being dragged in the streets; and disgruntled co-workers/employees. Because in the immortal words of the Notorious B.I.G., “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” No truer words were spoken. R.I.P. Biggie a/k/a Christopher Wallace.
Martina D. Evans is a civil attorney, a writer and an activist. She is a native of Baltimore and is the author a blog “The Meet.” She resides in Los Angeles, California.