Lee Daniels often espouses racial views typically heard only from characters in a Magical Negro movie. It’s one of those characteristics about the celebrated director that you like to forget in order to enjoy his art. Unfortunately, Daniels won’t cooperate with some of us in such an endeavor because he refuses to stop assuaging white fragility as if he’s literally “the Help.”
Case in point, his recent appearance on The Real, in which he had this to say about the role that racism has played in his career: “I wouldn’t be where I was if I embraced racism. If I embraced it, then it became real. And if it became real, I would be an angry black man.”
As if that weren’t a silly-enough statement, Daniels continued to confound select viewers by explaining his casting choices for his new show, Star.
The series follows a contemporary girl group in Atlanta on their rise to stardom, although the narrative is notably guided by its white protagonist. Why? Well, “because I thought that instinctively, the country needed to heal,” Daniels explained. “And I think that this white girl is so fabulous that black people will embrace her, and white people will embrace her.”
So in the era of President-elect Tangerine Mussolini, Lee Daniels believes that presenting nouveau Teena Marie on a new soap opera will end the divide in America?
Indeed, as Daniels went on to add: “I thought that it was important to address race relations in America. We are, truly, I believe, in a civil war. And I think that when we understand that we’re all one that [we will] then understand America. And America is still to be understood by us.”
What embarrassingly flawed logic. Racial harmony will not be achieved from centering the story of a girl group in a hugely populated black city on a white girl. If centering whiteness while allowing racial minorities to be in its vicinity were the key to healing the world and making it a better place for you and for me and for the entire human race, it would have happened long ago. After all, when don’t white people center themselves in stories—even when those stories have absolutely nothing to do with them? When don’t black people like Daniels go above and beyond to include white people in their stories, even when those gestures are rarely, if ever, reciprocated?
For the record, Daniels has definitely “embraced racism” when the mood suited him. Daniels is the same person who once complained about the role that racism played in his effort to find funding for The Butler. The same person who, earlier this year, took to Instagram to lament about racism in Hollywood, writing, “I hate white people writing for black people; it’s so offensive. So we go out and look specifically for African-American voices. Yes, it’s all about reverse racism!”
That’s not how racism works, although Daniels has employed the phrase “reverse racism” previously—notably when he claimed that Mo’Nique perpetuated “reverse racism,” comments that ultimately boiled down more to his belief that the Oscar-winning actress was not adept at playing the Hollywood game. Then again, Daniels has no problem throwing black women and black people collectively under the bus. He did so in a now notorious interview with Larry King in which he stereotyped black women and perpetuated myths about the “down low” and HIV/AIDS rates in our community. Daniels has repeatedly fed into the falsehood about rampant and uniquely severe homophobia purportedly relegated to the black community.
Daniels has also long talked about how racism and homophobia don’t exist in his children’s minds because they have a white dad and a black dad. Daniels criticized Mo’Nique for not playing the game, but the thing is, some of us aren’t into the kind of games Daniels plays.
There are people who talk about racism from the stance of wanting to be seen as equal to white people, and others who simply want to be treated as white. Contrary to comments made on The Real, Daniels will definitely acknowledge racism in the context of anything affecting him directly. That doesn’t make him an angry black man—just a black man aware of the circumstances he is dealt.
However, as he’s made clear with Star, all too often his plan to deal with those circumstances is to pander like hell to white folks. That’s his game. It won’t facilitate racial harmony, but it will keep him in some people’s good graces. I hope those people whom he centers so much find the light in his show, ’cause around these black-ass parts, Star is already looking dim.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.