Prince of Broadway – An Interview With Lee Daniels

After playing at numerous festivals, Sean Baker‘s film, ‘Prince of Broadway,’ is finally making its way to the big screen and coming in with a big name to help promote it – Academy Award nominated director Lee Daniels.
In the same way that Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey helped launched his Oscar nominated film, ‘Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,’ Daniels will be doing the same thing with this little independent film that has captivated audiences at festivals.

Prince of Broadway‘ is the story of Lucky, a charismatic hustler eking out a living in the underbelly of New York’s wholesale fashion district. An illegal immigrant from Ghana, Lucky makes ends meet by soliciting shoppers on the street with knock-off brand merchandise. Life is good for Lucky, but his dreams of a bigger life are suddenly upended when a child is thrust into his world by a woman who insists the toddler is his son. Set in the shadow of the Flatiron building and soaked in the colorful bustle of urban realism, ‘Prince of Broadway‘ reveals unseen lives creating their own knock-off of the American Dream.

For Daniels, the film brings him back in the spotlight after breaking so many barriers with the Oscar nomination and accolades that ‘Precious‘ received. Slated to direct ‘Selma,’ the film has now been put on hold for the time being as Daniels will next helm ‘The Butler,’ based on the life of Eugene Allen, a man who was a servant in the White House for over 34 years.

We caught up with Philadelphia native, who spoke about his upcoming projects and helping ‘Prince Of Broadway‘ reach audiences. Below are excerpts of the conversation.

You have a small film coming out in September that’s being promoted as ‘Lee Daniels Presents.’ How did you get involved in this?

Lee Daniels: A few years back at the Independent Spirit Awards I was a juror. I was editing ‘Precious’ while doing my jury duties. This was one of the films that was up for best picture, etc. I just remember being floored by it, floored by the truth of it, the tone of this filmmaker shooting New York in a different way, an underbelly we never see., voices we never hear. I voted for it. They came to me a bit ago and said they had a distributor and asked if there was any way I could help promote the film. I said “absolutely”, because a filmmaker’s filmmaker is everything I stand for.

With Tyler Perry & Oprah Winfrey coming on board to promote ‘Precious,’ did that give you more of a reason to go along with this approach? We don’t see “presents” much, as opposed to a producer/director attached to the credits as an executive producer.

LD: I was inspired by what Oprah and Tyler did for me to go out and present this film. This is an independent film, all my work has been independent. I don’t want it to go unseen. I figured anyone who came to see my work would definitely be interested in this.

What does ‘Lee Daniels Presents’ entail besides your name?

LD: It entails me talking to you, telling people to go see this film. It entails me going out to meet people, telling them to see the film. Ringing the bell as loud as I can ring it.

It’s being released by Elephant Eye Films.

LD: Yeah, they were foreign distributors for my films ‘Precious, ‘The Woodsman’ and ‘Shadowboxer.’ It was another link together.

It’s been on the festival circuit for awhile. Why do you think it take so long to find a distributor?

LD: As with most independent films it takes time to find the right home for people to appreciate the work, to realize that money can be made off a film. Part of distribution is choosing between ‘Spider-Man’ and art, and this is art. When you don’t have the machine behind you, you need as many allies as possible ringing the bell for you. I know what that’s like having lived it with Oprah and Tyler, and so I just wanted to pass the torch.

Last year was a big stepping stone for you. Nearly a year later, how have things in your career?

LD: I’m developing a lot of things. I’m writing under contract right now, writing some things for Sony, and waiting to find out what we’re doing for ‘Selma.’ Things haven’t changed! (laughs) Once it’s all over with you go right back to the drawing board. It’s kind of nice right now because after success there have been more opportunities presented to me, but it’s all about your next work. The amount of opportunities don’t have anything to do with that one thing your working on, your next child. You really start from scratch, with that embryo.

They say you’re only as good as your last project, and you cracked through a lot of doors, I was certainly looking forward to ‘Selma,’ and now word is that the film has been shelved for now. Rumors have circulated that funding was main reason for its delay.

LD: No, not at all! The script is in, the actors are there, some of them are stars. The money is there, it’s just a matter of whether I’m able to do it right now. Is it the one for me? I’m just trying to figure it out for me, right now. Is it the right piece?

The story of ‘Selma’ was something that was precious to you, then comes ‘The Butler,’ which is another story that needs to be told.

LD: That’s the dilemma I’m in, you know? I believe that you can only do one. For me, I don’t want to do two Civil Rights films back-to-back , so it’s gonna be one or the other. I wanna look at my options. ‘The Butler’ is a story very near and dear to my heart, about a butler (Eugene Allen) who has lived with six or seven Presidents. It’s a true story. Before he died Obama asked for him to visit him in the White House. This guy went from picking cotton to Eisenhower to today. It’s our ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and it’s my ‘Gone With the Wind.’ It’s my ‘Forrest Gump.’ We’ve never seen the world from an African American’s eyes, pre-Civil Rights to today.

Do you have any actors attached? There were talks that you were looking at Denzel to play Allen.

LD: We’re just talking, talking to people. (laughs)

What’s the best advice you are giving to aspiring filmmakers that want to make it in the business?

LD: I tell everyone to pick up a camera at this point. We’re in a difficult time right now in the world, let alone America, with money madness. It’s not as easy as it was, “Back in my day!” (laughs) ten years ago when I was making my first movie ‘Monster’s Ball.’ It’s not as easy to raise money, it’s hard. I’m out here writing in Hollywood right now and I’m looking at the product even the studios are turning out. The recession has hit Hollywood in a hard way. What we do is redefine what it is young filmmakers can do. This is how star actors and star filmmakers are created: pick up a camera, start shooting. If you gotta use a flip cam, if you gotta use a cell phone, don’t let anything stop you from getting your story across. It’s a very different world! We’re not in the same place as when people had money in the 90s and early 2000s. Be courageous, and do not take “no” for an answer. Actors and filmmakers will surface from the recession!

by Wilson Morales


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