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Daniels, Lee (b. 1959)  
 
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One of his goals was to help further the careers of African-American actors, but his client list included talent of all colors. Among his clients were Cuba Gooding, Jr., Hilary Swank, Natassja Kinsky, and Morgan Freeman.

He also began a relationship with casting director Billy Hopkins. In 1993, the couple relocated to New York. In 1996, they adopted infant twin daughters, the children of Daniels' brother, who was in jail when they were born, and his girlfriend, who was addicted to crack cocaine.

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Becoming a father profoundly affected Daniels. Although he was at first reluctant to adopt the children, he finally agreed because his partner, who wanted children, and his mother pressured him. He now acknowledges that the kids changed his life in many ways.

As a result of adopting his children, for example, he decided to give up recreational drugs, which he had used as a means of escaping the pain of his own childhood.

Daniels became a producer almost by accident. In 1999, he read a script intended for one of his clients called "Monster's Ball," about interracial love in the South, and decided to option it. As Daniels told Lynn Hirschberg, "Just like that. I had a 90-day option to raise the money for 'Monster's Ball,' and on the 90th day, I had the money."

The project, deemed risky because of its depressing and controversial subject matter, had been considered by other producers and directors, including Oliver Stone and Sean Penn, but only Daniels had the determination and commitment to bring it to fruition. He hired Swiss-born director Marc Foster and cast Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in the leading roles.

Produced on a tiny budget, Monster's Ball became a surprise hit, both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Although Berry was considered a controversial casting choice--many thought her too glamorous for the role of a waitress who falls in love with a white prison guard, not knowing that he had helped execute her husband--she gave an inspired performance.

Berry became the first African American to win a Best Actress Oscar, and Daniels became the first African American to solely produce an Academy Award-nominated film.

Monster's Ball not only increased Daniels' profile in the motion picture industry, but it also exemplifies several aspects of his approach to filmmaking. As in Monster's Ball, Daniels has consistently pursued projects that others declined because they were deemed risky or controversial. He is attracted to subjects that are daring, potentially alienating, and often violent, but he discovers in these subjects universal truths and at least a sliver of hope.

Perhaps as a result of his long experience as a casting director and talent manager, Daniels is not afraid of casting against type and of making unconventional choices. He has proven particularly adept at discovering the acting talent of hip-hop artists and other musical performers.

Daniels' films are character-driven and expressive of a strong social vision. They also are vehicles that require and inspire extraordinary acting, and bravura performances often command attention from audiences that may not be particularly interested in the subject matter. Hence, despite subjects that may seem unappetizing to movie-goers, most of Daniels' films have found audiences.

Still, because his films have been unable to secure the backing of major studios, he has had to perfect the role of salesman in order to get his projects onscreen. Partially for that reason, he has sometimes seemed less an auteur than a hustler. As he told an interviewer about the challenge of raising money to make his movies, "It's no different than a drug deal. People have trouble getting their movies made . . . . You go in, you go gangster, you get what you've got to get and go on to the next. It's just another hustle."

Although he has not told a specifically gay-themed story, Daniels' interest in social outcasts and his consistent championing of underdogs may well owe something to his own homosexuality.

Daniels' second project was The Woodsman (2004), a film based on Stephen Fechter's 1997 play of the same name about the difficult readjustment in society of a convicted child molester. Aspiring director Nicole Kassell, who had won a Sundance screenplay competition with her adaptation of Fechter's play, which she had written while in film school at New York University, approached Daniels about producing a film based on her screenplay and allowing her to direct it.

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