After serving as a producer for the Academy Award-winning film, Monster's Ball, Lee Daniels looked to make a name for himself as director. Over time, he led episodes of Empire, spearheaded Star and guided The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Through all of the success that he has had, one film in his repertoire has stood out, Precious. The Philadelphia native's 2009 film earned six Academy Award nominations and writer Geoffrey Fletcher became the first Black man to win the "Best Adapted Screenplay" award.
While the film performed well at award shows, it was not easy to make. Throughout the movie, Daniels touches on topics of colorism, race, economic inequality and much more. In a film industry that is dominated by white creatives, it was hard to find a team that bought into his vision completely. As a result, Daniels had to fire several white crew members and his director of photography less than three weeks into production.
"I had a white line producer, a white AD, they also read [reviews that said my last film] Shadowboxer was the worst film ever made, and they had zero respect for me, my vision, or what it was. They were New Yorkers that looked at this as a job," Daniels told Entertainment Weekly.
"I kept coming home like, this doesn't feel right, she doesn't look right, the set looks weird. I felt like I was giving birth to an alien, literally, so I did something that I now don't even know whether I'd have the courage to do, but I fired everybody. I shut it down."
Precious was led by an actress named Gabourey Sidibe, who has gone on to appear in Tower Heist, Antebellum and Empire. While filming Precious, Sidibe and Daniels had to shoot in a literal gutter that required her to lay on top of green slime. Unfortunately, shooting the scene took much longer than originally planned because the film's initial director of photography couldn't properly light her skin.
"One time we were shooting under a bridge in a literal gutter — not a 'set' gutter, like, gutter — with actual green slime on the ground... I had to lay so they could light me on the ground, and I swear to you, I was on the ground for over an hour while they were trying to light me," Sidibe explained to Entertainment Weekly.
"Every now and then, I might run into a DP that doesn't know how to light the variance of Black and brown skin, and that was one of the major problems with him."
Fortunately, Daniels and Sidibe were able to replace their old DP with Andrew Dunn, who worked on The Bodyguard and The Madness of King George.
“Then, we got back with a new DP, Andrew Dunn,” Daniels said.
“I’d seen The Madness of King George, and I loved the way he shot it. I loved The Bodyguard with Whitney Houston, he’d done that, and I asked him, ‘I need your help because my DP is disrespectful.’ They were all white guys, just rude, disrespectful, really rude to what I wanted to do, not knowing I was going to shut it all down.”
In the end, everything turned out well as they turned a $10 budget into a $64 million box office performance.