‘Empire’ Creator Lee Daniels on Mo’Nique’s Fall From Grace: ‘You’ve Gotta Play Ball’ (Video)

“Sometimes artists get in their own way,” the “Precious” director says in interview with CNN’s Don Lemon

Lee Daniels monique blackballed CNN
Getty Images, CNN

For anyone wondering where Mo’Nique has been since her Oscar-winning performance in 2009’s “Precious,” the film’s director Lee Daniels has some insight.

“During the [Oscar] campaign, she was making unreasonable demands, and I remember thinking ‘this is when reverse racism happens,’ Daniels told Don Lemon Wednesday on “CNN Tonight.”

Daniels, who created the hit series “Empire,” sat down with Lemon for a conversation that initially focused on his Fox hip-hop drama. But it quickly turned to Mo’Nique, who revealed in a recent interview that Daniels told her she had “been blackballed” after winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Daniels confirmed to Lemon that Mo’Nique has indeed fallen from grace in Hollywood. But he disputed using the word “blackballed,” adding, “I didn’t say that exactly.”

“You have to thank the producers of the film, you have to thank the studio, and she didn’t understand that. People aren’t going to respond well,” he said. “I love her, I’ve spoken to her. She’s brilliant, and I love working with brilliant people.”

Mo’Nique has claimed that she thought the Academy Award “should come with more respect, more choices and more money.”

In his evaluation of her words and actions, Daniels told Lemon: “Sometimes artists get in their own way — I know I certainly do often, I have my own demons,” he confessed.

“I think that there were demands that were made on the ‘Precious’ campaign that everyone knows hurt her. I told her that.” Daniels also stressed that the 47-year-old actress didn’t understand the business side of Hollywood.

“You’ve gotta play ball. This is not just show — it is show business,” he said with passion.

As for whether Mo’Nique’s treatment was due to her race, Daniels downplayed the issue. “I don’t like calling the race card, if I buy into it, then it’s real,” he said.

Lemon pointed out that some people call him a sellout, which didn’t bother Daniels, whose directing credits include the acclaimed drama “The Butler,” “The Paperboy” and “Shadowboxer.”  “I guess I’m a sell out then! Call it what it is. I am not going to not work, I am not going to not tell my truth… I’ll see you in the theaters!” he said with a raucous laugh.

“Wow — where does that come from? You live your own truth,” Lemon responded with respect.

Daniels, who is openly gay, also discussed the challenges of being gay and African-American.

“My father said to me, ‘Why do you want to be gay? It’s hard enough being a black man,” Daniels explained. “It’s taken me a long time to embrace that but I think if he was alive today, he would embrace that too.”

The CNN anchor then brought up another delicate topic, Bill Cosby and the seemingly endless list of women who have accused him of sexual abuse.

Daniels immediately flipped the question and asked Lemon what he thought first, prompting Lemon to reply: “Where there is smoke there is usually fire.”

While Daniels didn’t take issue with Lemon’s comments, he did point out that Cosby’s trailblazing work opened the door for African-Americans like himself.

“He is one of the reasons that I am here today,” Daniels said. “It is very, very hard, and what bothers me most is if there is an iota of truth to this… the one person of color that means the most to me is pulled down. If he is guilty then it says that we are human, which is what I like to examine with every character that I breathe life to.”

“We are not black, it is not white, we are not grey, we are all complicated,” he said. “We all like to point fingers and drag people down through the mud. I pray for him.

“I am wrecked by it, I am gutted by it,” Daniels lamented as he fidgeted nervously.

Watch the video.